Who’s in charge of removing flood debris? Berlin mobile home residents left in limbo

Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 5:40 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2023 at 5:56 PM EDT
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BERLIN, Vt. (WCAX) - Who’s in charge of removing rubbish from the flood? Nearly four weeks after the catastrophic floods, there are still piles of destruction at the Berlin Mobile Home Park and fingerpointing about who is responsible for hauling it away.

“I’m hoping all the best for people in the park but we’ve been scattered to the wind,” said Lois Flanders, who has lived in the Berlin Mobile Home Park for two years, and like her 30 or so neighbors, lost everything in the flood.

Much of that debris -- clothes, sporting equipment, cookware, and artwork -- is now piled up along Cedar Drive. Two weeks ago the town of Berlin told the park’s owner, Randy Rouleau, to have residents put their debris outside to be collected by a state contractor. But Rouleau says he received another email this week asking for his plans to have the rubbish removed. He says it should be the town’s responsibility.

The park is on private property and owned by a private company but residents own their homes and pay utilities and rent for the lots. Unlike Barre and Montpelier, the park is not the public right of way. Towns that use the state’s contractors also have to pay a match -- up to 25% of the cost.

“We’re reliant on the state’s debris contractor who has to follow the FEMA regs on this and that’s where the public-private distinction comes into play,” said Berlin interim Town Administrator Ture Nelson. He says the town is also strapped for staff and that he’s working with the state to get money moving to clean the mess up. “Trying to get authorizations and everything we need in place before we get moving on this.”

Back at the park, Flanders says she’s been approved for $15,000 in FEMA assistance. But on Tuesday rent was due and she had to write a check for nearly $500 on a lot she can’t even use.

The park’s owner says they are not receiving financial help from the government and until people remove their personal property, the lease does not stop.

There’s no timeline for when Flanders can have her home removed or demolished. In the meantime, she has to keep her belongings on-site to prove to FEMA her home is condemned so she can get the maximum payout of $41,000. “I try to take it one day at a time and one hour at a time. That’s all you can do,” she said.

While the fingerpointing continues, Flanders and others on the street are wondering if they need to remove their own belongings and drive them up to the landfill in Coventry.