FEMA surveys massive damage to the Colchester Causeway

Published: May. 17, 2018 at 12:29 PM EDT
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"I love it. Being out there is like being in another world," J.P. Farineau said.

But right now that other world looks like a rough ride. The May 4 storms packed a punch. Farineau lives along the bike path and says he couldn't believe the washouts on the Colchester Causeway until he saw it with his own eyes.

"I was shocked that a storm that seemed so short could produce that much damage," Farineau said.

And he's concerned that with the kickoff to the summer tourism season just around the corner, one of the area's big attractions will be out of commission for the season. It's a concern shared by the town of Colchester which owns the majority of the Causeway.

"This has become a destination for people. So, yes, it's an important resource for our community and the residents enjoy it, but I think when you look at it as an economic driver for our region, this Causeway is a part of that," said Glen Cuttitta, the director of Colchester Parks and Recreation.

Cuttitta said he's not sure when it will be back open or when repairs will even start. Riders have to turn around at the bridge. Beyond that it gets dicey. Large washouts bring the path to just a single lane in some spots.

The question now remains for the town of Colchester: how do you fill these ruts and how much does that cost? Right now, they estimate it will be about half a million dollars. That's why they want the Federal Emergency Management Agency to step in.

"We were told there was a lot of erosion and there was substantial erosion. As you walk farther up on this, the erosion seems to get worse," said Denis Martin of FEMA.

That was about all FEMA could say when we asked what their take was on the damage. But the state says it's confident Vermont will qualify for federal funding.

"Our numbers suggest that Chittenden County should be well over the threshold for the county. And a big part of that is the Causeway and the damage to the Causeway," said Mark Bosma of Vermont Emergency Management.

Farineau says he hopes FEMA will step in to cover 75 percent of the repair cost. It'll save taxpayers like him from footing the bill. But this is the second time in seven years the path has needed major repairs because of Mother Nature. He's hoping this time they can find a more durable fix.

"I'm concerned that at a bill of about $600,000 this could just happen over and over and over," Farineau said.

FEMA was also looking at other places Thursday. So far, six counties have applied for damages. The state has to show $1 million in damage total and then each county has to meet a certain threshold to get federal reimbursement.