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Weston calculates storm damage costs from Sandy

Many trees, like this one on the aptly named Blue Spruce Circle, were ripped from the ground during Sandy —Patricia Gay photo

It’s been exactly one month since Superstorm Sandy hit Weston — and the town is still determining the financial toll it took.

Weston did not sustain the level of infrastructure damage areas like the Jersey Shore and parts of New York City suffered. But with 220 separate incidents of trees on Weston’s 80 miles of roads (many of which blocked emergency access to entire neighborhoods), dozens of properties damaged, and most of the town without electricity for nearly a week, town workers were kept extraordinarily busy in the weeks following the storm.

Rick Darling, the town’s finance director, said the town paid out more than $105,000 in overtime costs alone “over the time related to the storm” — from Oct. 29 through Nov. 11.

That includes roughly $37,000 for the highway department, more than $63,000 for police overtime, and approximately $4,000 for dispatch overtime. Overtime was also paid to various custodial workers, the fire marshal, and other town hall employees who went above and beyond, manning town hall, the library, and school buildings that served as “comfort stations” to residents without power or water.

Joe Lametta, director of public works, said the highway department’s eight workers each logged about 90 hours of overtime in the three weeks following Sandy. Some of that was related to a brief snowstorm on Nov. 7, but much of it had to do with tree removal and manning the transfer station.

Mr. Lametta said last week he has yet to determine the full cost of the storm from the highway department’s perspective. Some of it is in the form of overtime, but there is also the cost of chipping and then removing debris from the transfer station.

In addition to debris cleared form town roads and property, for about two weeks, the town allowed property owners to bring tree debris from private property to the transfer station for no cost. Under normal circumstances, that cost would be borne by residents, not the town.

FEMA and public assistance

Ultimately, much of the cost for storm cleanup will not have to be paid by the town. Thanks to the governor’s and the president’s disaster declarations, the town will be eligible for reimbursement from the federal government.

Not only will overtime costs be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance program, but, said Mr. Darling, because of the disaster declarations and the “widespread severity” of the storm, municipalities will be reimbursed for much of the “straight time” spent on storm recovery, too.

Seven counties in Connecticut — including Fairfield County — and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribal nations are eligible to receive federal disaster assistance under the Public Assistance program to supplement state and local response efforts.

According to FEMA, local governments are eligible for reimbursement for debris removal, emergency protective measures (such as police overtime), and permanent repairs to and rebuilding of infrastructure, such as bridges, roads and public buildings.

Public Assistance usually reimburses municipalities about 75%. In Connecticut, however, the federal government is paying 100% of the cost for power restoration efforts through Nov. 14 (about two weeks after the storm).

Mr. Darling said while it’s nice to know FEMA will likely be reimbursing the town for much of the storm costs, he doesn’t expect to see the money anytime soon — perhaps not even in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013.

Weston police Sgt. Mike Furillo, the town’s emergency management director, along with members of the regional emergency management team and others, was scheduled to meet with Craig Fugate, FEMA administrator, and other FEMA representatives earlier this week to talk about the procedures that need to be followed to apply for and receive federal reimbursement dollars.

Mr. Darling said while the town “hasn’t gotten all the details yet” on who and what, exactly will be covered by Public Assistance, he is already laying the groundwork for the many steps that are undoubtedly ahead. “Unfortunately, we’ve become very aware of the FEMA reimbursement process,” he said.

Volunteers

As much as the town spent — and continues to spend — on storm cleanup, it was actually spared significant costs because of the hard work of hundreds of volunteers during the storm and in its aftermath.

The 80-plus unpaid members of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department logged a total of 925 hours in the week following Sandy; they were responsible for clearing 28 blocked roads, and they responded to more than 100 calls for assistance, including incidents of houses struck by trees, carbon monoxide warnings, and welfare checks.

The Weston Community Volunteer Coalition — a group formed after Tropical Storm Irene and a late-October nor’easter caused similar damage last year — also provided free labor.

The coalition coordinated more than 100 volunteers who manned the comfort station at Weston High School over the course of eight days. It also organized 130 “neighborhood captains,” who helped with communication in the wake of the storm.

All that help from the community? Priceless.

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