Report From Montpelier
by Rep. Alison Clarkson (D-Woodstock, Reading)
Hurricane Irene didn’t just change Vermont’s physical landscape, it is also having a profound effect on Vermont’s government, from our town to our state. As the Vermont Legislature prepares to begin its 2012 Session, Irene, and our response to it, is having a huge impact on our agenda.
We have now been to both a Legislative briefing and our caucus meetings and it is clear that our agenda will be divided between issues that have arisen as a result of Irene and the major issues we were on track to address before Irene: continuing our work on health care reform, economic development, energy planning and policy, public safety, education funding and re-apportionment.
Our ‘Irene agenda’ involves using the opportunities Irene has presented to improve and strengthen Vermont’s infrastructure, regulations, permitting, land use, communications and planning. Many of the areas we are addressing in our “Post Irene Property Task Force” will be dealt with legislatively. We have established sub-committees in the following areas: Finance and Insurance; Public Records and Towns; Housing; Planning, Rebuilding and Recovery; and, General Property Law. These sub-committees are focusing a wide array of issues – from uniform response of banks in disasters to enforcement of flood plain regulations in mobile home parks to eminent domain with emergency work, boundary lines, permitting, replacement of water and septic systems to loss of public records, town costs post FEMA and a variety of tax issues.
My own role in this is serving as co-chair of the Planning, Rebuilding and Recovery sub-committee. We are working on helping make every Vermonter in a flood hazard area eligible for flood insurance, state regulations to address rebuilding and building in the flood plain, regional flood hazard management in addition to town management (rivers don’t recognize towns), future flood control challenges, and a host of mitigation issues – how to improve properties so they won’t be damaged in future flooding. You can read about the Property Task Force’s work on the Vermont Bar Association’s website: www.vtbar.org. And, of course, how we finance Vermont’s share of the Irene disaster will be one of the major issues we grapple with this session.
Here are some Irene numbers for you to consider:
Nearly 7,000 Vermonters have filed a FEMA application.
$20 million in direct FEMA grants have gone out to individuals and families. About 1,400 residences suffered significant damage, leaving about 1350 families displaced (2/3 homeowners, 1/3 renters). 433 of these were mobile homes.
Over 200 businesses and farms have received more than $14 million in VEDA (VT Economic Development Authority) loans and the SBA (Small Business Administration) has approved over $8 million in about 60 loans.
468 Farms were impacted with over 6,600 acres of corn, 6,000 of hay and 17.500 of pasture affected. They estimate the repair costs for crop and land losses and damage to be well over $10 million. Through the $2.4 million that the VT Farm Disaster Relief Fund has raised, many of those farmers have been helped.
225 municipalities were impacted – 45 severely.
Over 500 miles of roads and 200 bridges were destroyed. To date only 1 road segment (Route 107) is still under reconstruction.
Our ‘non-Irene’ agenda will be challenging and far reaching. We will continue to pay major attention to helping improve Vermont’s economy and move us out of recession. This focus will inform everything from continued improvements in workforce training to the expansion of broadband and cell phone service in Vermont to supporting renewable energy development. Clearly our work in controlling health care costs and reforming our health care system (including payment reform) will be central to our 2012 session’s agenda. The Green Mountain Care Board is hard at work on these issues. Work will continue on Consumer Protection (improving information security and equity in fuel pricing), Corrections (finding smart alternative to incarceration) and Public Safety (new challenges with surge in property crimes resulting from opiate addictions), trying to reduce the achievement gap with children in our Education system, Education Funding – challenged by the decreasing values in our Grand List, and improving our water quality in Lake Champlain and in our rivers and other environmental protections. The agenda’s list is long, the time will be short and thus, the challenge enormous.
It has been a tough fall, full of loss, and our Windsor County Legislative Caucus was not spared. Our beloved colleague Mark Mitchell died in October. We salute his fine work and honour his legislative contributions. This month, we welcomed his successor, Teo Zagar, and wish him well as he begins his legislative adventure.
I always appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by mail: 18 Golf Avenue, Woodstock, VT 05091, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: www.leg.state.vt.us.
This article first appeared in the December 8th edition of the Vermont Standard.