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Flood Recovery Omnibus Bill Launched

Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough spoke on Jan. 3 of how the July 2023 flood affected the city’s finances at a rally at the Statehouse to support a flood omnibus bill. Photo by John Lazenby.
With an end goal to help Vermont be resilient against future natural disasters, several Vermont state representatives announced their support of a Flood Omnibus Bill on Jan. 3, and held a rally on the steps of the Montpelier Statehouse with about 100 people attending. The bill calls for $85 million in flood mitigation programs, such as grants to municipalities to offset revenue lost from the July flood, funding for repairing and renovating flood-damaged homes, and includes for collaboration between municipalities, better shelter preparedness, and technical guidance to manage waterways.

The bill was sponsored by state representatives Peter Anthony (D-Washington-3), Conor Casey (D-Washington-4), Kate McCann (D-Washington-4), and Jonathan Williams (D-Washington-3), who were among the speakers.

“Flood waters do not pay attention to municipal or state boundaries. And neither should we, when it comes to solving and preparing for the next disaster,” said Williams. The state representatives hoped that Governor Scott would include the bill in the year’s budget. 

“The cost of inaction is going to cost so much more down the line,” said Casey. “We cannot weather another flood like the one we saw. If we do, it’s the end of us.”

Grants for Municipalities

“I’ve lived in Montpelier for forty years,” said Montpelier Mayor Jack McCullough. “This is the worst budget year we’ve ever had in the time I’ve been here.”

In July, in addition to coordinating a response, and thousands of community members helping, McCullough said “we immediately had to cut a million and a half dollars out of our budget.” Municipalities “are facing losses of property taxes, rooms and meals tax, parking revenues, and the money was just not going to be there,” he said. The omnibus bill, if passed by the state legislature, grants to offset this loss.

“No individual community has the capacity, has the resources to respond and recover from the flood and the damage that the flood caused. We cannot make it without state funds,” said McCullough.

Michael Billingsley, Emergency Management Director for Plainfield, said “towns are connected together by their rivers.” He said “we share the hazards of this water. So I’m really delighted that this legislation addresses the fact.”

“We live on rivers in Vermont, we’ve built on rivers, and we’ve got to stop fighting against them. We’ve got to work with them,” said Katie Swick, a teacher at Roxbury Village School whose Elm Street home was “substantially damaged” in the July flood (see related story page 1).

State Sen. Anne Watson (D/P Washington) who serves on the Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said “I am really excited about things like removing defunct dams, that would help reduce the amount of flooding or the damage from flooding, allowing rivers to have better access to their floodplains.”

Mandy Fischer, director of programs for the Intervale Center, said the center is “committed to strengthening our food system.” She said that “in times of disasters, farmers need immediately available, flexible financial support to help them recover quickly.”

“Farmers coping with impacts of natural disasters, which they did not cause, often face significant and substantial economic losses,” said Fischer. “This legislation is a great step forward,” she said.

Grants for Housing Development

Mary Zentara, a homeowner and solo mom on State Street, said “on my income, I purchased a home that was available in my price range. And it just happened to be in the flood zone.” Her house now has no electricity, heat, kitchen, or bathroom. “Montpelier has begun to rebuild,” she said, but “we are stuck in limbo.” Read more about Zentara’s story on page 1.

“I tried to be as prescriptive as possible in the bill,” said Rep. Casey. “We have some priority for low income homes, and everything.”

“Climate change and its economic and quality of life fallout is here to stay,” said Williams. “It will impact those who have the least first and most severely.”

 Jen Roberts, co-owner, Onion River Outdoors, Montpelier, spoke at a rally to support a Flood Omnibus Bill in front of the Vermont Statehouse on Jan. 3. Photo by John Lazenby.

Flood Recovery Assistance for Businesses

“We have businesses that had just recovered from the coronavirus, and are drowning in debt, and they get leveled with this,” said Casey. “They’re in a state of disrepair, after the lost revenue from the flood.”

The Flood Recovery Assistance Program (FRAP), a feature of the proposed Flood Omnibus bill, would provide business assistance, including lost wages and lost revenue, improving and replacing the Business Emergency Gap Assistance Program (BEGAP) grants that were provided after the July flood to assist with physical damage.

Jen Roberts, co-owner of Onion River Outdoors in downtown Montpelier (which moved from Langdon to Main Street after the July flood) said “We couldn’t protect our business. No one could protect their home or their business from this rising river. And in the aftermath we all learned the disappointing news that federal emergency funds do not apply to businesses.”

In town, there was “no pharmacy, and no bank, there was no bookstore, no clothing stores, no outdoor gear store,” said Roberts. “We all know that we can do better than reacting after the fact,” she said.

While previous grants helped recover some lost inventory, this didn’t cover “new building supplies, new payroll, or payroll of existing staff,” and the five months of lost business, said Roberts.

Casey said he knew Good Samaritan Haven had been unable to get a BEGAP grant. “They said you’re out of luck. The money’s gone,” he said. “It’s no secret that the businesses with new Americans are the last ones to open right now.”

“This bill is, I think from my point of view, a window into the future. The past is just that, and we need the governor essentially to lead for the future,” said Anthony.

“We need a comprehensive flood mitigation plan, so we can look at our family, friends, and neighbors in Vermont, and tell them with a straight face we are doing everything we can to make sure this never happens again,” said Casey.

Stories about Flooding