Leahy talks post-Irene recovery efforts with state and local leaders
by Jack Deming
Mar 21, 2013 | 2403 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sen. Patrick Leahy at the Latchis Theater.
Sen. Patrick Leahy at the Latchis Theater.
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BRATTLEBORO- Sen. Patrick Leahy joined secretary of commerce Lawrence Miller and leaders from Bennington and Windham counties at the Latchis Theater on Friday, to give remarks on the launch of the Southern Vermont Post-Irene Recovery Project. The project includes the first community development block grants awarded to towns in southern Vermont impacted by Tropical Storm Irene.

According to Sen. Leahy’s office, the Post-Irene Recovery Project is funded primarily by a $472,000 US Economic Development Administration grant announced in December 2012. “This project will look at the problems, make our economy stronger, and if, God forbid, we have another disaster, we’ll be even more resilient,” said Leahy.

The project includes the allotment of sub-grants to the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation to fund the employment of two recovery officers. Bill Colvin, of the Bennington Regional Coalition, said the officers were an important part of the project and would act as a resource for recovery.

“The project will work on supporting and developing revitalization efforts in impacted downtowns and village centers,” said Colvin. “Regional Planning Commission staff and the flood recovery officers will work with the municipalities on the long-term planning processes to identify projects and assist with finding funding that will best enable their community to become more economically resilient.”

Wendy Woods, who will serve as the recovery officer of Bennington County, says that after witnessing the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene, she realized the importance of “connecting the dots between people, business, and municipalities.

“I spoke to the people, I heard their stories, and I really felt their fears, and I was also impressed by their resilience.”

Anthony Summer, who will be stationed in Windham County, said a strong economy is essential for improving conditions in communities. “I’m looking forward to doing my part to help bring business back.”

Laura Sibilia, Director of Economic Development for the BDCC and a board member of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, said the grants given to villages and downtowns have been essential. “Without their dedication of resources (the WRC and BCRC), I’m not sure we’d be standing here right now.”

Other grant funds being directed by the BDCC equal $240,000, and are being given to businesses in Windham and Windsor counties. According to BDCC Director of Workforce Development Patricia Moulton Powden, the funds come from a $900,000 CDGB grant, and are the first of three rounds of funding.

Moulton says the $1.3 million in applications for grants the BDCC has received have all been high quality, but the need outweighs the availability of funds. “The demand outstretches the available resources, and people are still hurting, as we’ve heard, but we’re pleased to be able to do our part and bring at least some funding to fill those needs.”

Susan McMahon, Associate Director of the WRC, said the reason the regional commissions were so important was that towns were struggling behind public infrastructure recovery, which didn’t have the resources for those looking for other means of long- term development and resiliency planning.

Local business owner and Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold gave remarks on the Dover and Wilmington area. Grinold referenced the area’s 16% decline in population over the past 10 years and a 7.7% unemployment rate as signs that the valley has a way to go, but stressed the cooperation of the community as a change agent. “This disaster had such a sense of urgency that we did not always allow ourselves distance to see the bigger picture, and that recovery of this magnitude takes time.

“With the continuous support of the community, and the thrift and ingenuity somehow passed from our Vermont forebears, victims found the fortitude to choose to no longer be victims, but business owners.”

Miller reflected Grinold’s comments, telling a story of touring Wilmington with a FEMA agent and a member of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Driving around with those folks, finding out the scale of the costs and resources and learning about disaster, we found out quickly that this was a five-year project. This isn’t short term, this is long term.”

Miller called colleagues in other states to gain knowledge of how others have responded to disaster and commented that Vermont has accomplished amazing feats through its simple understanding of cooperation.

Miller praised Sibilia for her work with multiple organizations and businesses, helping to assure southern Vermont would be given the help it needed. Miller also spoke about the roadblocks ahead, including cuts due to a federal sequester, and the process involved with figuring out how to correctly channel those cuts.

After Irene, Sen. Leahy said he spent his time on the Senate floor telling stories of suffering Vermonters, and his weekends on the phone calling the Senate Appropriations Committee to secure the $21.7 million in Housing and Urban Development grants that funded the local CDGB grants.

“I had to fight to explain that we’re a big country, and it may not look like a lot of money compared to what it takes to repair earthquakes in Los Angeles, but to us it’s life or death for our state.

“I said ‘We’re the United States, we can spend all the money we want to build bridges in Iraq (only) for them to blow them up. Spend it here and we’ll take care of them.’

“These communities are our character. We have to rebuild stronger, and we’ll fight to get money, but it’s the people who use it and make up community. We’ll be here because you’re not going to give up.”
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