Addressing Long-Term Recovery From Irene

12/08/11 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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AP/ Toby Talbot
In the days after Tropical Storm Irene, Nina Brennan, right, and Phyllis Berry clean mud from in front of the Proud Flower store in Waterbury. The community was selected for a special FEMA program.

(Host)  Two of Vermont's most storm-damaged communities, Waterbury and the Wilmington-Dover area, have been picked for a special FEMA program.

The program aims to help devastated communities envision their futures and bring those visions about.

VPR's Susan Keese visited the program's local kick-off this week in the Mount Snow Region, and has this report.

(Keese) The Federal Emergency Management Agency's long term Community Recovery Program got its start shortly before Hurricane Katrina. Since then it's gotten a workout in disasters around the country.

FEMA's Steve Wade, the program's manager in Vermont, says it's about long-term community recovery rather than individual needs.

(Wade) "We're about the needs of the community and rebuilding based on the community's vision, from 18 months to a kind of ten year time frame."   

(Keese) Wade says sites were chosen based on the severity of damage and the communities' ability to marshal resources for recovery.

Waterbury lost nearly 200 buildings in the August floods. And Wilmington lost much of its business district.

Wade says the effort pulls in broad expertise to help communities re-think their future after a disaster. 

(Wade) "We have team members from across the U.S. and they have various different areas of specialization. We have housing people, we have economic development we have engineers we have architects, we have graphics design people."

(Keese) Ultimately, he says, the projects people come up with are unique to each town. Communities have worked on highways, schools, community centers. One hurricane-prone Texas town used the process to develop a water park to enhance tourism.

The program doesn't offer grants, but Wade says the FEMA team helps identify funding sources that can help, once a community begins to define what it wants.

Waterbury had its first brainstorming session last week.

This week's kickoff  event in the Wilmington-Dover area  focused on economic development. The two towns produced a joint economic plan in 2009.

(Colvin) "And we're going to look at that 2009 report and see if in fact there's anything that's changed as a result of the flood."

Bill Colvin is an economic development adviser to the two towns.

(Colvin) "Are the priorities we identified in 2009 still the priorities? Are there new ones?"

(Keese) Colvin says the process is just beginning. But if everyone gets involved he says it could be a way to turn a disaster into an opportunity.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

Browse the latest minutes from Waterbury, Wilmington and Dover at VPR's Public Post.

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