Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently announced a series of
events to commemorate the anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. The
Governor plans on visiting some of the many communities affected
last year. "Vermonters have a lot to celebrate on the one-year
anniversary of Irene" Gov. Shumlin said, "but we also need to
recognize that many people and communities still need our
Vermonters and their neighbors came together in a truly
inspiring fashion in the wake of the devastating floods last year.
The optimism and positivity that got Vermont on track to recovery
was palpable and all the residents who volunteered deserve a huge
thank you. It's important to realize, however, that the job is not
done yet. Community members will have to continue the hard work and
cooperation they have demonstrated so far if the job is to be
completed and Vermont is to be prepared for future disasters.
Many of the state's dairy farmers are still feeling the effects of
last year's flooding and those problems are being amplified by high
grain prices, a national surplus of milk and a hot, dry summer.
Last year, many farm owners had to wait patiently while several
feet of water receded from their fields, then deal with repair
bills sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Irene was another blow to Vermont's
ailing dairy industry. As the number of working dairy farms in the
state slips below 1,000 more support is needed to keep that number
from dwindling any further.
Over $100 million worth of financial assistance has been
promised or submitted to Vermont by FEMA for Irene and the flooding
this Spring. This includes grants and low interest loans provided
to individuals. The amount also includes funds provided to
non-profit organizations, for public works projects and emergency
services. Much of the FEMA funds are earmarked for preparing
Vermont for future disasters. This is important as climate change
brings larger and more frequent storms to the Green Mountains.
$100 million is a lot of money and it has helped pay for the 500
miles of roads that needed repair and the dozens of bridges that
were damaged or destroyed, it also provided aid for the owners of
the 2,000 damaged homes, and more is expected to be allocated.
However, consider that is $773 million is the estimated amount
Vermont officials say it will cost to recover from Tropical Storm
Irene. What we are left with is a substantial amount of need. The
federal government is expected to pay about three quarters of that
amount, leaving Vermont with an estimated cost of about $110
million, administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding reported to the AP
June 15, 2012.
Private donations and volunteers have also helped cover much of
the uncovered need.
One organization that has worked tirelessly to help meet the
needs of Irene victims is the Vermont Community Foundation (VCF).
Their mission states: We help people give to the causes they love.
The Community Foundation was established in 1986 with a mission to
grow philanthropy in the state and ensure that donors and
nonprofits have the resources they need to be effective. We work
with individuals, families, and wealth advisors to make charitable
giving more enjoyable. We also offer services that help strengthen
nonprofits." A member of the grant making staff, Christopher
Kaufman-Ilstrup, released the following public statement a few
months after the flood, "There is still tremendous need on almost
all levels. Business support, individual and family support and
nonprofit support is still needed… We are seeing a lot of grant
proposals coming in from communities that are doing immediate
cleanup work but also looking to meet their long-term needs in
regards to erratic weather."
A lot of this long term planning is focused on Vermont's farmers
and making sure they are as prepared as possible. The VCF is
working with the University of Vermont and many farmers statewide
to look towards the future. Farm recovery is a huge part of what
the foundation was responsible for post-Irene. $1.6 million in
grants were given directly to farmers to help in recovery. Another
$500,000 will be paid out to farmers in the next month.
Applications for farm grants are still being accepted.
Non-profits and service organizations also benefited from VCF
grants. Overall, $4.2 million was raised by the foundation and $3.5
million has been paid out already. These monies were raised "from
every source you can imagine, Kaufman-Ilstrup explained. "A lot of
donations from Vermonters, the proceeds from the Phish concert came
through us, a lot of donations from out of state, many many benefit
concerts, sporting events and businesses." Irene affected
Vermonters across the board and Kaufman-Ilstrup agrees "the need
isn't concentrated in any one category. New needs are being
discovered, especially by farmers. It's interesting, as you drive
around the state, it looks pretty normal. But, if you were one of
the people who was actually flooded out, you are still feeling 'in
the thick of it'".
On a local level, the Rutland County Long Term Recovery
Committee (RCLTRC) has been engaged in similar fund raising and
distribution. The committee is privately funded and relies on
donations. Two disaster case managers operate from the BROC office
in Rutland and are funded by a grant from FEMA. Aaron Ashton
signed on as a SerVermont AmeriCorps VISTA through the Agency of
Human Services to do general capacity building specific to
long-term disaster recovery. During an interview, Ashton echoed the
call for more volunteers and more financial contributions. "Our
allocations group has allocated almost $7,000 to locals affected.
We have requested additional funds from the Vermont Disaster Relief
Fund in which $76,000 has been awarded. The requested need has far
outweighed what our local allocations group has been able to
provide." Ashton agreed that there is not one specific group of
Vermonters who needs help more than others. He says "We are seeing
cases that vary in scope and size. The work can be as small as
repainting a home to foundation repair to debris removal. The focus
of the RCLTRC is on helping to address their unmet need."
As the celebrations and memorials marking the anniversary of Irene
unfold, residents will remember the community spirit, altruism and
generosity that helped the state survive and rebuild even stronger.
It is equally important that Vermonters recognize there is still
work to be done and they will continue to access the resilient
spirit that makes the state indomitable.
For more information about the VCF visit www.vermontcf.org. For
more information about the RCLTRC visit www.rcltrc.org. Information
on the statewide Irene anniversary events that include music, art
and speeches by Gov. Shumlin can be found at www.vermont.gov.