$53M Provided to Restore Vermont Building Hit by Irene

September 4, 2013

The federal government and the state’s insurance will provide $53 million to help rebuild the Vermont state office complex in Waterbury that was flooded during Tropical Storm Irene, state and federal officials said last week.

The money will go toward a $125 million plan to tear down some of the buildings in the complex, restore others and construct a new one that will house about 900 employees of the Agency of Human Services. [The governor’s office said this week that Lexington is the state’s insurance company that would contribute part of the funds to help rebuild the office complex.]

The plan is itself part of a list of Irene reconstruction projects related to the closing of the Waterbury state office complex expected to cost $225 million, including relocations for displaced workers and the cost of building a new state hospital, officials said.

In addition to the $53 million, the state is also eligible to receive another $36 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state’s insurance company to pay costs of relocating state offices and preliminary cleanup work and another $30 million for replacing the Vermont State Hospital.

That means that lawmakers are only about $10 million short of the total for all the reconstruction projects, Gov. Peter Shumlin said.

“They’re going to be back greener, cleaner, cheaper to operate and ready for the next 200 years of service to the great people of the state of Vermont,” Shumlin said of the new offices.

Much of the Waterbury state office complex, including the Vermont State Hospital, was abandoned after Irene forced the nearby Winooski River over its banks on Aug. 28, 2011. After the water receded, about 1,200 state employees had to find new places to work and the state had to figure out what to do with the buildings.

The building that houses the Department of Public Safety survived. A new state hospital is under construction in the town of Berlin. The other state employees were farmed out in temporary offices across the state.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the Waterbury funding came about through legislation passed after the massive Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast just over a year after Irene, which allows FEMA to help fund projects that will make improvements rather than just restore structures or other infrastructure to pre-disaster conditions.

“It’s so we can support governors, support local communities, build back, not just what was, but build back better and use tools that say we shouldn’t be penalizing a state who wants to build back differently,” Fugate said. “They need to build for the future.”

The reconstruction is the largest capital project in Vermont history and the largest single Irene recovery project, officials said Thursday.

Some of the historic buildings in the site, the first of which were built in the late 19th century as the predecessor to the state hospitals, will be renovated. Others will be demolished and a large new building will be constructed, all designed to survive the next flood.

Construction is expected to be completed by late 2015.

The announcement of the funding was delayed several times, but those delays allowed Vermont to take full advantage of FEMA funding. Shumlin said the delays actually saved Vermont an estimated $25 million.

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