Hardwick, News

Federal Funding for Flood Fixes Foresees Resilient Future

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Vermont communities will be able to tap into a new pot of federal funding this summer to fix water systems damaged by flooding and make them more resilient for the future.

The state has awarded Vermont Bond Bank $6.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to run the Small System Capacity and Resiliency Program, according to a press release from Gov. Phil Scott’s office. 

Michael Gaughan, executive director of the Vermont Bond Bank, said the program will offer communities a chance to stay one step ahead of emergencies.

“Oftentimes, the only time policymakers hear about (a water system) is when it’s a complete crisis. We want to avoid that,” Gaughan said. “Our hope is that this program will serve as a carrot to encourage long-term capital planning.”

The water system recovery program will have two tiers, according to the press release. Zero-interest loans will be awarded in tier one, in which any water facility impacted by last summer’s flood is eligible to apply. 

Grants and forgivable loans will be provided in the second tier, which includes all small water systems that are “at risk of failure or have failed,” according to the press release. Gaughan said any water system serving less than 10,000 people is considered “small,” and these systems do not have to have flood damage to be eligible.  

While tier one applicants will receive the highest priority, Gaughan said at least $500,000 of the federal funding will be reserved for tier two. 

photo by Vanessa Fournier A water line and the round concrete bulk of a sewer manhole serving the now abandoned Inn by the River are exposed on the eroded bank of the Lamoille River. Town Manager David Upson said that, with the inn property being bought out and soon to be cleared. With the inn no longer there, that will be the new end of the town’s water and sewer infrastructure in that direction. (The black plastic pipe is a drain from nearby Route 15.)

Gaughan said the problem with water systems across the state is that many municipalities get stuck in a cycle of spending money on small-scale fixes and emergency repairs, which means they can’t save for larger infrastructure investments that would make water systems safe and effective long-term. 

This Band-Aid-and-bullet-hole spiral was magnified last summer as communities attempted to repair their water systems from structural damages and contamination caused by flooding. 

The Vermont Bond Bank has financed billions of dollars for local infrastructure projects since being established in 1970, which makes it a “natural fit” to run the program, Gaughan said. In 2023 alone, the bank’s loan programs financed the construction and repair of classrooms, roads, water systems and more, according to its annual report.  

The Department of Environmental Conservation, which awarded the federal funding to the Vermont Bond Bank, will announce more details about how municipalities can apply to the program by the end of the month, according to the press release.

In the meantime, Gaughan said his team is interviewing people affected by severe water system damage in Ludlow, Johnson and Hardwick in order to “learn as much as possible” about the effects of flooding before the formal application process begins. 

“It’s intended to be an iterative process so that we’re as responsive as possible to the conditions on the ground,” Gaughan said. “We want to design a program that’s actually helpful, rather than mandating something that’s not going to be very useful in the long run.”

Emma Malinak, VTDigger

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