Towns May End Free Disposal

10/11/11 7:34AM By Charlotte Albright
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VPR/ Charlotte Albright
Dennis and Mary Kay Brown have been helping neighbors in Hartford dispose of debris from flooding.

(Host) More than a month after Tropical Storm Irene turned many Vermont houses into piles of rubble, a couple from the Upper Valley are still picking up their neighbors' debris and hauling it to the local transfer station.

But Hartford, like many other towns, can no longer afford to waive the disposal fees.

VPR's Charlotte Albright joined a recent pick-up trip along hard-hit Route 14.

(Albright) Dennis Brown and his wife Mary Kay live in a trim white, blue-shuttered house on the outskirts of White River Junction. Perched on a hill, it sustained no damage from the storm.

But as the couple climb into their truck, with its attached wooden trailer, they remember how shocked they were to see the waters rise only a short distance away as they ventured out to see the storm build at the end of August.

(Dennis Brown) "And we had parked at the West Hartford bridge with our truck and we walked around and looked around and by the time we got back to the truck the water was up to the truck, and so we knew there was going to be problems, and then the next morning and saw all the damage and it was clear to us that we need to get and action plan and start helping."

(Albright) Their "action plan" was to drive around and help shell-shocked homeowners get rid of mud, and, later, timber, sheet rock, appliances -- anything that couldn't be saved. So far, driving over some dangerous roads, they've hauled over 50 loads to the transfer station.  Sometimes Mary Kay took muddy, soggy clothing home, laundered it, and brought it back.  But sometimes, she says, the most personal items had to be trashed. One house still haunts her.

(Mary Kay Brown) "There were boxes of photo albums, and, like, wedding announcements, and things like that, and we spent a few minutes looking through them trying to decide, you know, if we took these back home, could we dry them out, scan them in, save them, and there was no saving them so we just loaded them into the truck and took them to the landfill."

(Albright) Until this past week-end, the town of Hartford, like many in the Upper Valley, footed the bill for those residential disposal fees.  But Hartford Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg says that post-Irene tab has topped $100,000, and the town has to stop being so generous.  The Browns have convinced a local non-profit housing assistance agency, Cover, pay for a few more trips - including this one.

(Albright) They pull on their beat-up gloves and begin throwing splintered, nail studded in the trailer as the grateful owner, Cheryl Gilbert, pauses to reflect on the past harrowing weeks.  This historic riverfront house survived the 1927 flood, but took on 53 inches of muddy water last August.

(Gilbert) "I grew up here, I've been here fifty years. I bought the house from my dad, so..."

(Albright ) "So you are not about to leave this house."  

(Gilbert) "No, and my brothers that grew up here, we are all trying to save it."

(Albright) As the family goes back to work rebuilding their home, the Browns truck head for the transfer station.   

Along the way, they point out several devastated houses and trailers that can't be saved. Brown worries that some people mistakenly assume that the state has largely recovered from the storm. Not here - not yet.

(Brown) "It's gotten out of the media limelight and I think anybody that hasn't traveled through these affected areas thinks it's all set and over, so yes, I definitely feel that."

(Albright) Which is why he and his wife Mary Kay have no plans to stop their volunteer garbage pick-ups. They're not quite sure where the money will come from to pay the transfer station attendant, but as long as they can find agencies or people willing to chip in, they'll keep on trucking.

FEMA says they'll only cover trash disposal fees for individuals if the removal is necessary to make the dwelling safe, sanitary and functional, and only if only if residential applicants register for relief and keep receipts. The FEMA registration deadline for residential assistance is October 31st.

For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright, in Hartford.

Read the latest select board minutes from Hartford at VPR's Public Post.

Clarification: An earlier version of this story quoted a town official who said that FEMA will cover residential disposal fees. FEMA says they'll only cover residential fees for individuals if removal is necessary to make the dwelling safe, sanitary and functional. 

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