Homeowners recovering from December storm
Jan. 13, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
Weather forecasters warned of an impending rain and windstorm for Dec. 1, 2010, but few expected the kind of damage wreaked on the high, wooded ridges of Williston.
That afternoon, straight-line winds that the National Weather Service said approached 90 mph roared through town. In its wake, the storm flattened hundreds of acres of forest and cost the town and property owners thousands of dollars in damage.
Now, the town is eligible for federal reimbursement for much of the damage.
“I’m 54 and I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire life and I don’t care to ever again,” said resident Leo Boutin, who was home on Old Creamery Road when the highest winds struck.
“It was devastating to see the trees breaking and hear that awful noise,” he added.
The storm left many Williston residents without power for upwards of five days. Town employees worked around the clock to clear roads and clean up damage.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration in late December for Chittenden, Franklin and Lamoille counties, entitling municipalities within the counties to money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Unfortunately for homeowners, the FEMA money only extends to state and local governments.
Boutin said he wasn’t surprised that private homeowners missed out on the federal money and he never expected to see any assistance. Acts of God, like the windstorm, just happen, he said.
“Mother Nature did her thing,” Boutin said. “I’ll just have to suffer with what it is.”
According to Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton, the hardest hit parts of town — areas around Oak Hill Road, South Road and Christmas Lane — required a lot of clearing by rescue and public works personnel. Morton recently attended an informational meeting on how Williston can apply for federal disaster aid and met with FEMA personnel on Monday afternoon for further updates.
Morton said the town could receive upwards of 75 percent in reimbursement costs for any damage to public buildings; he noted that the town-owned Old Brick Church sustained minor roof damage during the storm. The town is also eligible for overtime worker costs and extra fuel costs, along with the related expenses of clearing debris-filled roadways.
Morton believes the clearing of town recreation trails might also qualify for FEMA reimbursement. Planner Jessica Andreoletti said that’s good news, since many trails around Mud Pond are currently impassable. She estimated that more than 80 trees, many of them large white pines, fell in and around the trail system.
“Until we get the federal funding, we haven’t prioritized what areas of town need work,” Andreoletti said, adding that cleanup for Mud Pond would likely begin in spring.
Since town personnel are still compiling reports, Morton was unsure how much money Williston might recover from FEMA and did not know when the funds would be available.
Residents turn to insurance agencies
Homeowners with damaged houses and other property will need to rely on their insurance companies for any disaster related relief. Rob Nesbit, who lives on Bradley Lane, said if FEMA couldn’t help residents with monetary relief, perhaps the agency could assist in other ways.
“I would love to get federal guidance on what to do with the property,” Nesbit said. “That would be a huge resource in itself.”
Nesbit’s Bradley Lane neighbor Peter Engisch figures his property sustained approximately $5,000 in damage. While his home survived relatively unscathed, he watched his garage be nearly blown to pieces from the wind. As for FEMA relief, Engisch said he didn’t count on any assistance and his insurance company helped him recover some costs.
“I’ve never seen trees like that get taken down like matchsticks,” said Engisch, who spent part of the storm outside trying to minimize damage to his garage.
Nesbit said about 25 acres of his 102-acre farm suffered heavy damage. Trees that he planned to selectively log in the coming years were destroyed in minutes as winds tore through his property.
Boutin believes he lost more than 100 trees in the storm. Between logging the felled trees on his property and helping to clean up a nearby snowmobile corridor, he said he has work cut out for him.
“I feel lucky, though,” Boutin said. “If the wind had come from a different direction, I would’ve lost my house.”