State to feds: More help needed for blizzard costs
Published 9:07 am, Sunday, February 17, 2013
Connecticut officials plan to seek additional federal reimbursement for storm-related expenses incurred by the state and municipalities during last weekend's blizzard, saying their request is justified given the enormity of the winter storm.
Starting next week, the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will begin the process of collecting information from cities and towns about their costs, DESPP spokesman Scott DeVico said. That data will be included in an application by the state for a major disaster declaration by the federal government, a designation that could lead to more federal funds.
Connecticut received an emergency declaration by President Barack Obama shortly after the blizzard hit, which DeVico said is unusual for snowstorms. That declaration authorizes 75 percent federal reimbursement of certain storm-related costs over a 48-hour period. The major disaster declaration, however, would cover an additional 24 hours of costs.
"We feel that the impact of this storm on the state warrants us to get more than 48 hours of assistance and we will be making that case to the federal government," DeVico said. A total price tag for the storm, which left up to 3 feet of snow in some places, has not yet been determined.
That was welcome news to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, whose city was hit hard by the blizzard. Nearly all roads were not made passable until Thursday, six days after the storm arrived.
"We've had crews working around the clock," said Elaine Ficarra, a spokeswoman for the mayor. She said city officials have not yet tallied up their costs. "It's an extraordinary event. It's almost an extraordinary expense," Ficarra said.
Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said many of his member cities and towns are still trying to add up their costs from the massive storm.
He said the hefty bills could cause cash flow problems for some municipalities, because even if the state is granted the additional federal reimbursement, it could be months before any checks are cut.
Brenda Bergeron, an attorney for DESPP, said some municipalities are just now receiving aid funds for 2011's Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm. Cities and towns have not yet been reimbursed for costs associated with Superstorm Sandy, which hit the state this past October.
The state Department of Transportation, meanwhile, has yet to total its costs from the blizzard, but it could be in the millions of dollars.
Judd Everhart, the agency's spokesman, said DOT crews were on the job continuously, beginning at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, and working through Tuesday night.
That equates to about 100 hours. DOT has 1,196 maintenance employees and it typically costs $95,000 an hour when there is a "full call out" of staff, as DOT had for this storm. Maintenance employees work 17-hour shifts, get a three-hour break and return for another 17-hour shift until the job is done, he said.
The agency budgeted $28.6 million for this winter season for snow and ice removal.
Everhart estimates the state has probably spent 60 to 70 percent of that budget so far, perhaps more. If DOT goes over budget, he said funds can be moved from other accounts once the season ends.