Irene Survivors Still Rebuilding

Jul 23, 2013

Although it’s been nearly two years since Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont, there are still people who are in the process of recovering. The state’s Disaster Case Management Program has about 180 cases open.

About half of those involve repairing or rebuilding flood-damaged homes.

Cheryl and Patrick Boucher’s house, next to the Wells River in Groton, is jacked up high and surrounded by rocks and rubble dug out from beneath it.

When Irene hit, floodwaters pushed the house, built in 1894, partially off its foundation. Patrick Boucher said there’s one major reason why they’ve put off fixing it until now.

“Finances mostly,” Boucher said as construction workers hammered in a new foundation. “I mean nobody can afford what we have to do. We can’t afford it, but we’ve got to do it!”

The Bouchers are doing much of the construction work themselves. With the help of the Disaster Case Management Program they applied and received a $10,000 grant from the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.

Sitting nearby, Peter Edlund, who is in charge of construction for the Case Management Program, says there are dozens of Irene-repair projects, like this one, remaining.

“Some of them are pretty simple to get through once we have funding,” explained Edlund. “And some of them are much more complicated, all the way up to total rebuilds.”

Edlund supervises a team of a dozen people who coordinate the construction projects and volunteers. He said certain parts of the state need more help than others.

“Clearly there are a couple of hot spots,” said Edlund.  “The Southeastern Vermont Long Term Recovery group has a number of cases, Upper Valley Strong in White River  has a number of cases and then here in central Vermont.”

What are left are the more complicated cases that have multiple funding sources, each with their own criteria for eligibility. Case managers help homeowners piece together the funding. But it’s a complex puzzle. Peter Edlund tries to pinch every penny by cutting deals with contractors.

“I wheel and deal and beg and steal and borrow anywhere I can,” said Edlund.  “We’ve got a number of contractors that give us discounted prices. We try to line up 2 or 3-like projects and offer that back to a contractor for discounts, the ‘Irene discount’, if we  can get it.”

Edlund said help is still needed from volunteers with skills and equipment.

He said despite the challenges, a lot of progress has been made. Edlund credits the long term recovery committees, the case managers, construction coordinators and volunteers

“We hit the beginning of the year with over 300 construction projects,” recalled Edlund. “And despite a really crappy, wet summer we’ve managed to whittle that down to 92 and we keep moving.

I don’t wish another disaster on this state, but I sure feel like we are geared up to handle it the next time, if this group of people and this program is back in gear again.”

The Disaster Case Management Program recently got word that FEMA has extended its funding beyond the two-year anniversary of Irene, through the end of November. Edlund said, even with the extension, there are some people, who have been especially hard hit, who may not be able to repair their homes by then.