Recently released emails have some wondering if Vermont administrators knew federal funds for Irene repair might not come through.
The state's budget - passed this spring - relies heavily upon receiving a high-level of reimbursement for repairs to the State Hospital as well as portions of the State Office Complex. Now, receiving that level of support appears less likely and the matter is set to become a campaign issue.
Following the administration's release of emails Senator and Gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock has called a press conference for Wednesday. He says the administrators failed to provide enough information to legislators as they wrangled over the budget.
Administrators counter that they willingly handed over the documents to Brock, and insist they've got nothing to hide.
Tuesday, Following a Freedom of Information Act request from two Vermont news agencies, the Shumlin administration released all email exchanges with Federal Emergency Management officials regarding Irene repair funding.
Brock says funding assurances provided during the legislative session fly in the face of the lack of assurance from the feds. "The legislature operated under the assumption that funding for the new state hospital and the replacement for the Waterbury Complex was not in question," he said in a phone interview late Tuesday night.
In February emails, FEMA administrators repeatedly refused to provide estimates or assurances to the administration about how much it would pay for hospital and complex repairs, stating all portions of a plan would need to be in place before signing-off.
In an email response to Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding's request for a ballpark figures, Nick Russo of FEMA wrote , "Jeb the short answer is FEMA doesn't have the legal authority to make a conceptual okay."
During a phone interview Tuesday night, Secretary Spaulding says the administration never guaranteed funding in presentations to legislators, despite following all the guidelines for qualification handed down by a FEMA provided consultant. He said FEMA spokespeople recently removed that consultant from Vermont, then told the state that a qualification requirement the consultant had provided was inaccurate.
But, Spaulding says that doesn't mean funding won't materialize. "We haven't convinced them yet that the state hospital is eligible for Public Assistance," he said.
Spaulding says the administration has documented proof of the federal flip-flop. Though not available Tuesday night, he says the public can expect the release of those pertinent documents soon.
He adds that federal funding is in fact assured at the highest level, however, it's eligibility that's newly uncertain.
"There are a lot of caveats here, and those caveats were not in my judgement made clear to the legislature," said Brock.
Legislators we spoke with differed on the matter, and Brock balked when asked if he felt misled. What is certain is that matter will provide political fodder in the on-going election cycle.
Senator Brock plans to hold a 10 a.m. press conference on the matter Wednesday in front of the Waterbury Complex. Secretary Spaulding said he plans to attend.
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