Wilmington and Dover selectboard members met with Mullen and Havreluk Monday evening, for a progress report on their work with businesses physically damaged by the storm. The two business consultants were hired by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation in October, after the two selectboards signed a contract with the BDCC to administer the emergency program. Dover funded the program with an amount “not to exceed” $20,000, in a nearly unanimous act of generosity toward their Wilmington neighbors.
Monday evening, BDCC Executive Director Jeff Lewis told board members that businesses in the towns were about two-thirds of the way through a three-step process of recovery. The first of the two steps, which he called “triage,” was complete. The second step, which Lewis called “survey and hand-holding,” was completed, with a few exceptions. As part of their work during the second phase, the EBACs contacted 106 business owners, and worked with 104 of those contacted. The “hand-holding” included assistance in locating grants and loans. According to Havreluk and Mullen’s statistical summary, almost $1.3 million in loans from the Vermont Economic Development Authority have been awarded to local businesses, and more than $1.2 million in Small Business Administration loans has been received. And there may be more to come – 26 VEDA loans and 10 SBA loans are pending. Grants to businesses from the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club’s fund have exceeded $210,000, and more than $66,000 in Floodstock funds have been distributed. But Havreluk said businesses were still struggling financially, and many didn’t have adequate insurance. “They’re short,” she said. “A lot of these business owners had to go out and get loans.”
Of the $8.5 million in damage reported by businesses, nearly half, $4.1 million, was in building damage, $2.2 million in equipment damage, $1.2 million in inventory loss, and $1.1 million in lost business. Mullen pointed out, however, that the losses were estimates, and that not all businesses were able to provide an estimate of their losses.
Last week, Wilmington town officials estimated damage to municipal infrastructure at $2 million. There may be some overlap in the business and municipal estimates, however. Mullen noted that some damage costs associated with the Wilmington Town Hall and Fire Department were included in the EBAC damage estimate. And Lewis noted that businesses that weren’t physically damaged by the storm were not included in the EBAC mandate, and their business losses weren’t included in the statistics.
Responding to a question from Wilmington board member Susan Haughwout, Mullen and Havreluk said the cost estimates didn’t include agriculture; they hadn’t contacted local farms. Haughwout noted that Wheeler Farm was forced to dump a substantial amount of their milk production after the storm because milk transport trucks couldn’t make it into the valley. Vicki Capitani said that an East Dover dairy was also forced to dump their production. Haughwout asked Mullen and Havreluk to contact farms and logging operations about assistance, and add their losses to the statistics.
Of the 104 businesses that participated in the EBAC survey and program, 61 have reopened, two are partially open, 13 plan to reopen, seven are open at a temporary location, three are moving, and three are seasonal. But there are 10 businesses that say they will not reopen. In Dover, 14 businesses were affected by the storm, and all 14 are open.
Mullen also told board members that some businesses, including Poncho’s Wreck and the Vermont House, were included in the statistics, even though their closure wasn’t connected directly to the flood. But one of the most alarming statistics was that of restaurant seats in the valley, particularly in Wilmington. There are currently 357 restaurant seats open at storm impacted businesses – 505 seats are closed. Of the 505 seats, only 260 belong to owners planning to reopen. “That’s a net loss of 245 restaurant seats,” Lewis noted. “That’s a big concern for a resort area.”
Havreluk said she and Mullen received positive responses from business owners. “They were appreciative,” she said. “A lot of the business owners took advantage of the resource. I think it was money well spent.”
Lewis told board members that the project had come in well under budget. He estimated that as of Friday, December 9, only $13,526 of Dover’s $20,000 budget had been expended. Most of the work had been completed, but Lewis said there were a few businesses that could use more help. “We’re recommending that you extend the end date,” he said. “We’d like to keep one of the EBACs (Havreluk) until the end of January to do special projects.”
The third of Lewis’ three steps, long-term recovery planning, would get underway later in the evening with the kickoff of the federal long-term economic development process. Lewis said part of the extended EBAC work will be to determine where the “handoff” is from the EBAC program to the other recovery efforts.
Lewis told board members that their support of the EBAC process had put the Deerfield Valley well ahead of other flood-damaged areas.
“What you did here was really important,” Lewis said. “You went in here at the right time with the right resources. A lot of credit goes to Laura (Sibilia, BDCC Project Manager) and to Kelly (Pawlak, Mount Snow General Manager).”