West Hartford is the first community in Connecticut to receive approval from FEMA for reimbursement of clean-up costs in the wake of October's freak snowstorm. The Town was the hardest hit community in the state, with the largest bill for clean-up costs.
U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, and First District Congressman John Larson, announced Thursday that West Hartford will receive $5.5 million reimbursement from FEMA for debris removal.
"This is just for the portion," said Town Manager Ron Van Winkle. "We actually have 19 applications going to FEMA."
Reimbursement for clean up of some of West Hartford's major arteries – which are classified as Federal Highways – is not included in this initial reimbursement but will come through the State Department of Transportation.
West Hartford provided FEMA with documentation for nearly $7.43 in debris removal costs incurred from the removal of trees and limbs from streets and other public areas, curbside pick-up of residents' debris, delivery of material to the parking lot at UConn, the process of grinding the debris into mulch, and the cost of disposal.
FEMA's public assistance grant of $5,505,854.39 represents exactly 75 percent of those costs, a reimbursement level made possible because of President Obama's "Major Disaster Declaration" on Nov. 17.
"We had documentation that was perfect," Van Winkle said. "It was literally a truckload of documents."
Even as the Town was working furiously to clean up the devastated landscape, municipal employees were documenting every move in anticipation of the FEMA application process. For the debris clean-up task alone, Van Winkle detailed a process that included observing as brush was picked up by the enormous trucks with their grappling arms, a check of each truck's contents at the , and a post-dumping check of each truck as it left the facility to ensure that its load was fully emptied.
"We got back what we were seeking to the penny," said Mayor Scott Slifka on Thursday. "It is a real testament to those who put [the application] together and documented everything."
Van Winkle is pleased that the Town got all of that documentation filed, and received an initial reimbursement sooner than anticipated. "The rest will all come as part of the process," he said.
Other applications for FEMA reimbursement are still pending, one of the largest of which is $2 million for clean up of hangers – the branches left dangling in the trees.
Van Winkle said that hangers were cut out of 5,000 West Hartford trees. "FEMA requires before and after photos of every tree, plus a photo of the hanger on the ground to prove that it is over 2 inches in diameter. That's 15,000 photos!" he said.
Sen. Blumenthal and Cong. Larson both surveyed the damage in West Hartford as the clean up process was just beginning.
"West Hartford well deserves this reimbursement for the hard hit from last year’s October snow storm – a hard hit in financial costs as well as damage and debris," stated Blumenthal in a release announcing the reimbursement. "I’m pleased that this money helps make West Hartford whole for the hard work and sacrifice in the wake the storm."
with the mayor on Oct. 31, said at the time that the Town looked like a "war zone." In the release announcing the reimbursement, he stated, "Under the Mayor’s tremendous leadership West Hartford has been able to recover from the storm, but the long term financial effects are still lingering. This funding will go a long way in helping the town recoup some of the damages it sustained last October and I am very grateful to the Obama administration for releasing this assistance."
West Hartford's was nearly $12 million. The Town expects to ultimately receive close to $9 million in disaster assistance grants. The remaining amount, totalling nearly $3 million, has been paid out of the Town's fund balance, Van Winkle said.