FEMA crews tour Vt. ice storm damage - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

FEMA crews tour Vt. ice storm damage

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JOHNSON, Vt. -

Federal Emergency Management staff took notes as crews described the damage to infrastructure from the pre-Christmas Ice storm that left 75,000 without power.

Three teams are on the ground inspecting Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Grand Isle, Franklin, Lamoille and Orleans counties for damage to public infrastructure, like roads and utility wires.

While here, they'll need to cope with subzero temperatures and snow.

"Hopefully everyone's going to be dressed for it. If the roads get really bad, I want you home early," said Fred Costello of FEMA.

At a morning briefing, FEMA officials said the job is secondary to safety.

The governor requested the preliminary assessment in order to use the findings to seek a presidential declaration of disaster, allowing the state and counties to qualify for relief funds.

"What we need to do is show enough damages to make sure we can make a strong request for declaration. We don't have to hit every applicant or every downed tree at this stage of the process," said Ben Rose of Vermont Emergency Management.

In order to qualify, the crews must find $1 million worth of damage statewide. For a county to be eligible, it needs to show $3.50 worth for every resident. In Essex County, that's about $22,000; in Chittenden, it's $540,000.

"You're going to see some evidence of devastation in your trips the next few hours," said Dave Hallquist of the Vermont Electric Cooperative.

VEC can qualify because of its public nature, while private companies like Green Mountain Power cannot. VEC suffered nearly $7 million worth of damage and federal funds could speed its ability to put the ice storm in the rearview mirror.

Federal, state and local officials say they do expect to qualify for a disaster declaration. Once received, the detailed relief fund claims process can begin.

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