In this May 2011 photo, it’s clear how close Lake Champlain got to Georgia Shore Road last spring. The Georgia highway department used aggregate rocks to shore up the banks; most, but not all, of their work was covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This summer’s hot, dry weather makes last spring’s flooding a distant memory, but town officials in Georgia haven’t forgotten about the damage the high water caused last year because not all the bills have been settled.

But Georgia can soon close its books, as its final reimbursement of $7,180 is on its way, said Jim Cota, the District 8 project manager at the Vermont Agency of Transportation, who liaised with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Georgia.

Five FEMA-approved projects related to May flooding, fully finished last November, cost Georgia $47,862. Georgia received 75 percent of that already in a $35.9K lump sum last fall. The town also put forward $4,786 as its required 10 percent match, Johnson said.

The Georgia Selectboard has carried “Spring FEMA funding – no update,” on its agenda since at least Town Meeting Day.

Johnson contacted VTrans about the final reimbursements in May. Two months later, at the July 23 meeting, Johnson updated the board: No payment yet.

“It’s my impression we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do, and we still haven’t seen that payment,” Johnson said then.

The final installment is relatively small, but Johnson’s major concern was finishing the lengthy the FEMA funding process. That’s why she’s glad that a check for the final 15 percent, the state’s contribution, was cut in July, according to Cota.

“Georgia [town officials] … did a good job, and I was able to sign off that they did their work,” Cota said. “We have a lot of work going on right now, and it’s not a fast process.”

A lengthy process

Several meetings and site tours between town, state and federal officials took place before FEMA approved Georgia’s funding last year, after heavy rainfall mixed with massive snowmelt overburdened Lake Champlain and Georgia’s rivers, Cota said.

The largest expense on Georgia’s FEMA paperwork accounts for almost $25,000 spent on “miscellaneous Georgia Shore sites,” it reads.

“We had numerous locations along Georgia Shore Road that initially were fine, but as the water stayed that high, it started to take parts of the bank down,” Johnson said. The road is well traveled, which added to their concern, she added.

The lake reached 103.6 feet above sea level in early May, more than three feet above flood stage, said VTrans District 8 Administrator David Blackmore. It didn’t get below 100 feet until mid-June.

Town crews used a medium-weight, aggregate rock material to reinforce Georgia Shore Road banks.

“In some instances, we didn’t have much time,” Johnson said, referring specifically to one section of the road where a utility pole almost slid into the water.

High lake water eroded much of the bank at the town beach and pavilion area, threatening the boat launch parking area. That project cost $5,284, Johnson said.
The other three projects related to overburdened rivers.

On Georgia Mountain Road, a landslide pushed a significant amount of the bank into the Lamoille River, Johnson said. The road, categorized as Class III and unpaved at the section in question, is home to many families and farmers and is also a dead-end. The work, which cost $15,103, was completed quickly to ensure residents weren’t stranded.

The town constructed a second culvert, at a cost of $1,705, because water from nearby drainage streams was overtaking Montcalm Road. A $1,206 project on Old Stage Road also addressed overwhelmed culverts.

“On that road, we lost a significant amount of the shoulder, so in order to keep that road open – it’s one of the main roads back and forth that Milton and Georgia residents use – they had to do some bank stabilization, too,” Johnson said.

Work needed to start promptly, so by the time Johnson and Highway Foreman Howard Webster toured the area with FEMA officials last June, town employees had already begun repairs.

Georgia taxpayers did bear the cost of some repairs, as FEMA only refunds costs within the town’s right-of-way, Johnson said.

Town crews reinforced a spot near the town beach where the bank was eroding rapidly, to prevent the town’s right-of-way from being impacted. The costs associated with those repairs will come out of the “erosion control materials” line item from the general highway budget, she said.

Georgia budgets by the calendar year, and the budget voters approved this past

Town Meeting Day included a $35,896 “Highway Disaster Revenue” line, reflecting the money already received from FEMA.

Johnson submitted the closeout paperwork for the town’s five projects in January. Georgia was the first municipality Cota worked with to request its final payment from the state, which distributes FEMA funds, he said.

“That’s where we’ve left it. Officially, I’ve not received anything else since January,” Johnson said last week.

A full plate

Cota estimates 16 of the 29 towns that fall under his District 8 jurisdiction filed FEMA requests after spring 2011 flooding. Some towns submitted up to 20 project worksheets.

Plus, by January, VTrans was also fielding requests related to August’s Tropical Storm Irene, though District 8 – which covers the St. Albans region – fared better than other places in Vermont. Additional, smaller FEMA events, like a large thunderstorm on May 20, were also lumped into the two main events for the year, Blackmore added.

“So, we’ve been a little busy,” Cota said, explaining the holdup. “Folks shouldn’t be concerned anything’s going wrong here.”

Pending receipt of the final $7,180, Johnson said Georgia’s FEMA process went well. Though she heard other municipalities had some issues with FEMA representatives, Georgia did not, and overall, interactions went smoothly, and Georgia’s projects were easy fixes, she said.

Blackmore said municipalities should stay in touch with VTrans throughout the disaster-reimbursement process. “Ninety-nine percent of questions can be answered” by the district administrator and project managers, he said.

But, Blackmore said, “delays happen.” He noted that FEMA has rejected or fell short of some town’s reimbursement requests.

“We’re meeting repeatedly with them to request they reconsider,” he said. “But as you know … There’s lots on FEMA’s plate right now.”