Gov. Peter Shumlin is getting tired of the Waterbury office complex looking like a ghost town. And his patience with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is running out.
"Could FEMA get their act together? Yes, they could. Would that make me happier? You bet," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
Shumlin says it will cost $170 million to renovate the washed out state office complex and create more bed space for mental health patients at four facilities statewide. His administration asked FEMA to pitch in $80 million to $100 million. The feds have not yet approved that request. So the governor says he's pushing ahead with the projects anyway, promising to break ground on a new mental health hospital in Berlin before winter. In Waterbury, the governor's hands may be tied. He needs FEMA's OK to tear down the buildings so the state gets every last dime for the destruction.
"If we push them prematurely for a quick conclusion, a quick number, we are likely to risk leaving money on the table that Vermont deserves because they're going to give us a quick answer," Shumlin said.
Shumlin readily admits it's a risky move with no guarantee of reimbursement, but he's confident the state will figure out how to pay for it.
"If we fall short we will use the same ingenuity that got us as far as we have come since Irene hit us to get us the rest of the way," Shumlin said.
He says he'll appeal lowball reimbursements from FEMA and will work with President Barack Obama and Vermont's representatives in Washington to get what Vermont deserves.
Reporter Jennifer Reading: So, is this an irresponsible decision?
Randy Brock/Republican for Governor: Well, it is not the decision that I would make as governor.
Shumlin's opponent in the gubernatorial race says he would have a contingency plan. Randy Brock hammered the governor for moving forward with major construction before explaining to the public how the state will pay for it if FEMA funding falls short.
"I haven't heard the clear worst-case statement as to precisely what we're going to do and exactly how are we going to pay for it and what it's going to cost," Brock said.
Shumlin says the Waterbury office complex renovation is happening even if FEMA funding falls short. It just might be a smaller version that the state could afford. Right now the plan is for nearly 1,200 employees to return. Worst-case scenario-- according to the governor-- is that they lower that number. But he doubts it will come to that.
There are two new members heading the FEMA team here in Vermont. The governor said at Wednesday's meeting they offered some apology for how things were handled in the first few months after the storm.
Now, if that FEMA funding comes through in the dead of winter, the state says they're not wasting any time and crews are on board for cold weather demolition. The governor says Waterbury's economy depends on getting those employees back in place as soon as possible.
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