Town officials look to FEMA funds to help weather storms

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Mon., Feb. 18, 2013
A parade of vehicles follows in the snowplow's wake on Main Street in Voluntown Feb. 9. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
A parade of vehicles follows in the snowplow's wake on Main Street in Voluntown Feb. 9. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Despite the overload of snow on local municipalities in the past few weeks, town officials across the region feel confident that they can manage the costs of making local roads passable through the end of the winter. Griswold, like many other municipalities, is applying for federal disaster assistance as a result of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s and President Barack Obama’s declarations of a disaster area for the state in the wake of the Feb. 8-9 blizzard.

First Selectman Phil Anthony said that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds are reimbursable up to 75 percent, sometimes even higher. The town will apply for FEMA reimbursement, he said, though at press time town officials had not yet received the applications. “We had multiple hours of overtime for the road department and highway crews,” said Anthony. Crew members each put in about 64 hours of overtime during the three-day weekend of the snowstorm, he said, in addition to a regular eight-hour shift, for a total of 448 hours of overtime. The costs of overtime, as well as replacement of equipment damaged or broken during snow removal, all would qualify for reimbursement, he said.

This year’s weather is a marked difference from last winter, when snowfall was sparse. “Last year we had a $50,000 snow [removal] budget, but because of the mild winter we only used $6,000,” Anthony said.

In Sprague, last year’s surplus in the snow removal budget was channeled into preventive maintenance, said First Selectman Catherine Osten. “We prepared for this year,” she said. “We put money into extra work on the snowplows, dump trucks and payloaders. We did a lot of extra maintenance work and bought extra snow blades and sand.” During the recent blizzard, the town “did a lot of scaling up” using seasonal and summer staff, as well as water and sewer workers, she said. Sprague has already applied for federal reimbursement for damages due to hurricane Sandy, and will be applying for money to cover costs for the blizzard as well, she said.

Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom said that the city spent about $100,000 in clean-up costs after the blizzard, and will also seek FEMA funds to reimburse some of the expense. He said the FEMA 75-percent formula covers the first 48 hours of disaster labor, and that it’s possible the agency will treat the subsequent 24 hours with the same formula. “But our expenses didn’t stop,” he noted. Cleanup in the city lasted for several days, as snow piles were trucked away from city streets, just in time for another 2-inch dusting the following weekend.

Still, it’s not like two winters ago, when the city had to spend contingency funds to wrestle with frequent and persistent snow and ice storms, Nystrom said. The 2011-12 snow drought was welcome; “We needed a break after the year before that,” he said.

Lisbon First Selectman Tom Sparkman said that the town funds snow removal costs, including overtime and replacement snowplow blades, through state Town Aid Road (TAR) grant funding. “We’re fine,” he said. “I have no reason to believe that we won’t [get through the winter].”

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