Amount of Penfield Pavilion repair aid still at sea
While the town has decided to rebuild Superstorm Sandy-damaged Penfield Pavilion, officials remain uncertain what federal reimbursement will be allocated to offset the $6 million cost.
Town Fiscal Officer Robert Mayer said this week the town should get the answer to that question in a few weeks. The beachfront pavilion has been closed since it was undermined by the storm in October 2012.
Mayer’s remarks came during a Penfield update delivered to the Representative Town Meeting on Monday. If the Federal Emergency Management Agency agrees with findings by Witt O’Briens, the town’s consultant on the pavilion repair project, that the building is more than 50 percent damaged and can be deemed a “replacement,” the town will receive reimbursement for both construction and hazard mitigation, leaving the town’s net cost at just under $1 million.
If, however, the federal agency decides the building’s damage falls below that 50 percent threshold and is deemed a “repair,” the 75 percent reimbursement would not include mitigation costs. Mitigation costs include elevating the pavilion to guard against future flooding damage.
Last fall, FEMA informed the town it had pegged the figure at 42 percent, which Witt O’Briens disputed. The consultant put the figure at closer to 69 percent. When the town refused to accept the FEMA decision, the federal agency agreed to bring in its own outside consultant, Dewbarry. At one point, according to town officials, the FEMA figure for reimbursement was 49 percent.
Dewbarry, according to Mayer, appears to agree with the town’s 69 percent assessment. Now, the town is waiting for FEMA to weigh in on whether it will accept its own consultant’s determination.
“Have we been notified we don’t meet the 50 percent?,” RTM Moderator Pam Iacono asked Mayer.
“No, we have not,” Mayer said. “The only thing changed is that our consultant sat down in a room with Dewbarry and it’s my understanding that we did, indeed, pass the 50 percent rule. FEMA hasn’t said anything yet.”
Bryan Cafferelli, R-10, said, “I’m a little confused as to the timeline, and as to when we first became aware this could be a problem.” After the meeting, Cafferelli forwarded emails to the Fairfield Citizen from October between the town and FEMA that referenced the 42 percent figure, with his suggestion the Tetreau administration has not been forthcoming regarding Penfield repair reimbursements.
The 42 percent damage figure was reported in a May 7 story in the Fairfield Citizen about the disagreement between FEMA and the town over the extent of damage to the pavilion.
“It’s very distressing to have people think I may be holding back information,” Mayer said. He also said it is his fiduciary responsibility to the town to try and secure the highest reimbursement possible.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau said it was because of those emails that his administration turned to the town’s state and federal delegations and pushed for the third-party review of its reimbursement request.
“Our consultants had been saying that FEMA wasn’t following its own guidelines,” Tetreau said, and they believed that stemmed from this FEMA region not having a lot of experience dealing with storms of Sandy’s magnitude
Tetreau said the FEMA consultants spent two days meeting with the town’s consultant. “We think that’s another step on the road that gets us closer to the finish line,” he said.
Should FEMA rule the project a repair, Mayer said, that doesn’t mean the town will be forced to foot the entire bill for the mitigation efforts.“We would then have to file for the the hazard mitigation grant program,” he said. The program, while funded by FEMA, is administered by the state. “It would be another process.”
That could mean the net cost to the town increases, Mayer said, but he said it would not likely mean a huge increase from the estimated $943,000.
“I have faith in my numbers and calculations,” Mayer said, “and with Witt O’Briens’ understanding of structure, contracting and building. Our numbers make sense.”
Both Mayer and Tetreau said they understand the frustration with the slow progress getting reimbursement approved by FEMA.
“FEMA is, of course, protective of their bucket (of money),” Mayer said, “and we, as taxpayers, want them to be.”
The town could have chosen to rebuild the pavilion first, and then apply for reimbursement, but town officials said felt they ran the risk of having much more of the work declared ineligible for assistance. Instead, Mayer said, the town is using FEMA rules and regulations to guide the repair plans for the best reimbursement results.
Bids for the repair project are due back July 8, and officials expect work to start at the end of July.