FEMA denies $3M Fairfield reimbursement for Penfield Pavilion
FAIRFIELD — In 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a $3.2 million reimbursement towards the reconstruction of the Penfield Pavilion, destroyed during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Last November, however, FEMA claimed the reconstruction project violated federal regulations, disqualifying it from funding.
“I have determined that the project is ineligible for financial assistance. This is because the applicant pursued a change in the approved scope of work without prior FEMA approval ... and constructed the Penfield Pavilion in a manner that violated the federal regulations,” George Vanderschmidt, a FEMA disaster recovery manager, wrote Nov. 28 last year.
FEMA claims that the pavilion doesn’t comply with floodplain management regulations and has horizontal grade beams “above the natural grade and below the base flood elevation.”
Last week, the town filed a 304-page appeal to FEMA’s decision.
At a Board of Finance meeting on Feb. 5, Managing Director Bill Riley of Witt O’Brien and Kevin Chamberlain, engineer, along with First Selectman Mike Tetreau, said they expect a favorable outcome from their appeal.
“If there’s not success at the first step, there’s generally better success at the second level that is decided at FEMA headquarters rather than at the regional level,” Riley said, describing the appeal process.
In a letter to Fairfield residents, the town stated that experts and engineers have included “extensive documents in support of the conclusion that Penfield Pavilion complies with FEMA regulations.”
Board of Finance members were concerned about the consequences of FEMA’s reimbursement denial.
“If we’re not successful (with the appeal), that’s a major financial hit to this town,” Jim Walsh, board member, said. “If we don’t get this money, it’s going to be a major problem.”
The total money authorized for the reconstruction of Penfield Pavilion amounted to $7,446,999. The town’s insurance carrier covered $1.75 million and in early 2016 FEMA notified the town of a $3,255,040 reimbursement.
Chief Fiscal Officer Rob Mayer confirmed that $4 million of the Penfield project were bonded while the money expected to have come from FEMA has been covered by town funds.
According to a frequently-asked-questions summary, if the town’s appeal is denied by FEMA, the town will not need additional funding as “FEMA was a reimbursement not an initial funding source.”
The November FEMA decision to deny funding comes two years after the town provided more information to the agency regarding the pavilion’s compliance with federal regulation.
Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn demanded the board receive quarterly updates on the FEMA appeal process.
“While I hope we get the funds and it gets resolved relatively quickly… the fact that we were not given the information is not appropriate and I’m not happy about that,” Flynn said regarding the November letter.