Officials appealing FEMA decision on tornado relief
NEW MILFORD — Officials are making a last-ditch effort to get federal funding to help deal with the aftermath of the deadly tornadoes and macrobursts that hit the state May 15.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency ruled town governments in Fairfield and New Haven counties will get up to 70 percent reimbursement for cleanup costs related to the storms, while New Milford, Roxbury and Bridgewater in Litchfield County would not. FEMA announced individual homeowners wouldn’t get assistance.
That decision is being appealed.
“They have an obligation to the whole state,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said, after a morning meeting with New Milford officials recently. “Denial of this relief is unfair and inexplicable.”
The entire Connecticut congressional delegation is joining forces to advocate for the additional money for the Litchfield County towns and for individual assistance, Blumenthal said. He and other members are gathering evidence to appeal before FEMA.
New Milford and other towns are sending letters to appeal the decision. New Fairfield First Selectman Patricia Del Monaco sent a letter to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Monday asking for help getting individual assistance.
Though New Milford was hit by the same storm that tore through the Danbury area and touched down again in Hamden and Southbury, New Milford is in Litchfield County and its damage is calculated separately.
“The storm didn’t know the difference between Fairfield and Litchfield counties when it hit us,” New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said.
Litchfield County had to hit a threshold of $698,000 to qualify for public assistance, according to the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
So far, New Milford’s town expenses come to nearly $254,000, with bids still out to determine the cost to grind and remove the debris stored at Century Brass. This includes overtime for public works and police officers, as well as reimbursement for the volunteer fire departments, insurance deductible, debris removal and the generators, said Brian Ohmen, New Milford’s emergency management director.
“It's a large amount of money we’d rather use on infrastructure improvements or things we need,” Bass said, adding the high school roof needs to be replaced.
Based on initial filings, Bridgewater had about $139,000 in damage and Roxbury had $26,000. The state as a whole had $13.2 million.
“The damage from this event was significant in each of the designated areas,” Jeff Byard, associate administrator of the office of response and recovery at FEMA, wrote in a letter. “However, based on our review of all the information available ... it has been determined that the impact to the individuals and households from this event was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of individual assistance. ...”
Blumenthal said this was unfair and he was moved by the graphic photos he has seen of roofs torn off, trees blocking roads and downed wires from the storm. He said the pictures of the devastation are the same images as other places hit in Connecticut and there’s no reason New Milford, Bridgewater and Roxbury should be excluded.
He said homeowners should also get financial assistance.
“A family whose home has been destroyed deserves that relief, regardless of where they live,” Blumenthal said.
Bass and Blumenthal are optimistic, though no timeline has been released.
“I'm hoping FEMA will respect the merits and the facts of our appeal,” Blumenthal said.