June 21, 2021

Congressional panel agrees to increase Irene emergency funding $150 million

first_imgA significant hurdle for Vermont getting more aid from the federal government for Tropical Storm Irene recovery was cleared yesterday. Congressional House and Senate conferees Monday afternoon agreed to extend and increase transportation funding in the wake of damage done to roads and bridges. Without the extra $150 million, Vermont would have to use regular transportation funds to pay for the emergency repairs, thus taking money away from ongoing tranportation needs. Governor Peter Shumlin has put Irene-related repair costs at $175-250 million. The Senate on November 1 approved a transportation budget bill that included the cost waivers included in the bill by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The vote on the bill in the Democratic Senate was 69 to 30. But the Repbulican House had not passed a similar amendment, so the language had to be approved by conferees on both sides to be included in the final bill. The final bill still needs general approval by the full House and Senate, which typically would go along with the conference committee; that action is expected by the end of the week. If approved, the bill would then go to President Obama to be signed into law. ‘This is outstanding news,” Representative Peter Welch said in a statement. “Vermonters have never complained about their tax dollars going to help others in the country caught up in a natural disaster, whether it be a hurricane on the Gulf Coast, tornadoes in the Midwest, or flooding along the Mississippi River.   ‘This time, Vermonters are in need. Across the state, we are working together to help ourselves, but we can’t do it alone. Today’s news means Vermont will get a much-needed helping hand from the rest of the country. ‘I am grateful that House Republican and Democratic leaders alike listened carefully and responded to the needs of Vermont ‘ proving that Congress can, in fact, work together to get the job done. My hope is that the efforts of the bipartisan Hurricane Irene Coalition will serve as a model for how we can accomplish difficult tasks in the future.” Governor Shumlin also applauded the news. He said the congressionial action likely will ensure up to that $250 million will be available in aid for repairing the state’s transportation infrastructure damaged by Irene. ‘I cannot overstate how critical this bill is to our state,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This is the difference between a financial calamity for Vermonters already facing tough times and our ability to now rebuild Vermont better than Irene found us, which I am bound and determined to accomplish. Vermont’s Congressional delegation fought hard to secure this aid.’Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) issued the following statement: ‘This is an important step toward providing Vermont the help it needs and deserves to rebuild roads and bridges washed out by Hurricane Irene.  I hope Congress will now finish its job this week so communities in Vermont and other states devastated by the flooding may continue their recovery.’Leahy worked to add $1.7 billion to the depleted Federal Highway Administration emergency fund, upon which Vermont will depend for help in repairing and rebuilding roads washed away or damaged by Irene-related flooding.  The emergency highway account is nearly empty. The negotiators agreed to:· Restore funding to the depleted FHA emergency fund to help states with infrastructure repair from the Tropical Storm;·  Remove a $100 million cap on federal assistance, enabling the state to receive aid from Washington for between $175 million to $250 million of repair costs depending upon the state-federal match for work, which has yet to be determined;·  Authorize 100 percent reimbursement for emergency repairs beyond the current limit of 180 days ‘ meaning projects that extend into the spring and beyond will be eligible for full coverage from Washington. Shumlin said the federal assistance will ensure Vermont can afford Irene-related repair work, building projects in a way that reduces the likelihood of future weather-related damage, as well as transportation projects already on the books and unrelated to storm damage. The negotiations also pave the way for heavy trucks to move off smaller state roads and instead use the Interstate highways, which will reduce damage on state and local roads. Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy‘Meeting Vermont’s Disaster Recovery Needs’Senate FloorTuesday, November 15, 2011″Mr. President, I would like to take some time now to talk about the positive impact next year’s Transportation-HUD Appropriations Bill will have on my home state of Vermont ‘ particularly as we continue rebuilding from Hurricane Irene’s destructive forces back in August.  I commend Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray and Ranking Member Susan Collins for their hard work and dedication in ensuring that the final bill filed last night both provides appropriate funding for disaster relief accounts, and moves heavy truck traffic out of historic downtowns in Vermont and Maine.  As I have recounted here on the Senate Floor many times, Irene was devastating to our small state of Vermont.  Record rains and flash flooding simply washed away homes, farms, businesses, roads, and bridges all over the state.   Of all the body blows we suffered when Irene raked our state from border to border, repairing the damage to our roads, bridges and rail lines is one of our most urgent priorities.  The huge expense of mending our transportation network is well beyond the ability of a small state like ours.  As we tallied the destruction, it quickly became clear that Vermont will need far more federal help than is now in the pipeline.  The same can be said of other states ravaged by Irene.With many federal aid disaster programs underfunded, I am especially pleased that this bill contains $1.662 billion to replenish the Federal Highway Disaster Relief fund, which will help Vermont and other states rebuild their vital roadways and bridges.  These connections are crucial to distributing aid, rebuilding our economy and serving as the lifelines to small communities. In working with Governor Shumlin, Senator Sanders, Congressmen Welch, and community leaders across Vermont, it became clear right away that given the mammoth destruction of this storm, certain waivers were going to be needed to allow states to access these emergency funds without unnecessary burdens or delays.  Adjustments to this cap also have been made after other major natural disasters, like Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew and tornadoes in the South. I appreciate the inclusion of those waivers in the final bill.  They are essential to ensuring that Vermont can promptly begin work on emergency and permanent repairs sooner rather than later.  It is now the middle of November, and severe winter weather is right around the corner in Vermont, which will make these rebuilding efforts nearly impossible until the spring thaw next March or April. The bill also includes another high priority for Vermont ‘ moving heavy trucks off the state’s secondary roads and onto our Interstate highways.  Overweight truck traffic in our villages and downtowns poses a threat to the state’s infrastructure and an unnecessary safety risk to motorists and pedestrians.  The Leahy-Collins provision in this bill will end the steady parade of overweight trucks in Vermont and Maine from rumbling through our historic downtowns on small, narrow roads that come within a few feet of schools, houses, businesses, and town greens.  This provision also will help Vermont businesses and communities struggling even more right now because of the large number of state and local roads heavily damaged during the recent flooding disaster. Vermonters have continued to draw from their deep reservoirs of resiliency and resolve in the wake of Hurricane Irene.  This storm will enter the history books alongside the horrific floods of 1927 in our state.  The national government then also helped our state’s recovery, as it should.  We are the UNITED States of America.  The American people come together in times like this, just as Vermonters have always been among the helping hands extended to other states in their times of need.The progress this bill makes in helping Vermont and other states meet their urgent needs is a testament to the determination of many in this body who have been willing to set aside ideological tensions and partisan differences to accomplish the work that the American people expect from their Government.  I think we would all agree that we need more of that here in Washington these days.”last_img

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