Friday June 14, 2013

There are areas that just seem to flood all the time. Many towns have trouble spots that you can count on being covered with water every spring or following a heavy rain storm. They're just in low spot where repetitive flooding is a fact of life.

But it doesn't always have to stay that way. Fixing those areas is the goal of the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. HMGP funds help communities make improvements to public infrastructure and private property that are designed to lessen the effects of future disasters. Vermont cities and towns have used HMGP funds to raise roads, replace culverts, flood-proof buildings, and buyout flood-prone properties -- among many other projects.

The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security has a mitigation team that makes sure projects are identified and funded if at all possible.

HMGP funds are made available to communities following a federal disaster declaration. Nearly two years on, more than $11 million is still available to all Vermont communities due to the disaster declaration following to Tropical Storm Irene. DEMHS is administering a fifth round of grant opportunities and the deadline for communities to apply is July 12. A state committee put together by DEMHS reviews applications, forwards the most sensible and effective solutions to the Federal Emergency Management Agency - where they are eventually approved for funding or rejected.

In the 18-plus months since Irene millions of dollars have come into Vermont through HMGP:

-- Total HMGP project funding approved to date: $14.3 million

-- Total number of applications approved by Vermont and submitted to FEMA: 110

-- Projects approved by FEMA: 53

Projects approved by Vermont include 91 property acquisitions in the following towns: Barre City, Bethel, Bolton, Brandon, Brattleboro, Bridgewater, Burlington, Chester, Clarendon, Danby, Grafton, Granville, Hartford/Quechee, Londonderry, Middlesex, Newfane, Northfield, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Readsboro, Rockingham, Rochester, Royalton, Ryegate, Sharon, Stockbridge, Wardsboro and Wilmington.

Projects also include: 10 public infrastructure projects located in Barre Town, Brattleboro, Cabot, Chester, Newfane, Pawlet and Weathersfield; 19 local mitigation planning grants for Hartford, Middlebury, Tunbridge, and 16 towns in Orange, Southern Windsor and Windham counties; and one outreach/educational initiative project by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

Only municipalities and certain non-profits (like volunteer fire departments, for example) can apply for HMGP; individuals are not eligible. Applications are submitted to the DEMHS and the selection committee picks out projects to forward to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which issues the final approval or denial.

These funds are available after every disaster declaration and available funds are based on the amount of money granted for Public Assistance. For Irene that amount is unprecedented in Vermont.

If town officials are unsure if a project may be eligible or have questions, they should call Ray Doherty, Misha Bailey, or Kate Hammond in the Mitigation section of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security at 800-347-0488. The DEMHS Mitigation section can walk communities through the process and answer any concerns.

The application can be found on the DEMHS web site at http://vem.vermont.gov/mitigation. The deadline for applications is July 12, 2013. If you plan to apply, call the mitigation team above.

Ben Rose is Recovery and Mitigation Section Chief for the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. Before assuming his current role, Ben worked with the Irene Recovery Office to help cities and towns navigate the Public Assistance process following the federal disaster declaration.