"Spaulding said the administration will not make any major decisions about the future of the Waterbury complex without input from the full Legislature, which reconvenes in January."
"Damage to the facility has indefinitely displaced nearly 1,600 state employees, many of whom have yet to return to work. Spaulding and Gov. Peter Shumlin said the state is on the verge of securing interim office space for hundreds of workers idled by the flood."
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Article published Sep 15, 2011
For 1,600 state workers, future homes in doubt
Century-old state office complex faces uncertain fate after flooding
By Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Press Bureau
MONTPELIER — Administration officials say it’s unclear whether Vermont employees will ever again clock in at flood-ravaged state office buildings in Waterbury.
The scope of the damage at the century-old complex has begun to come into focus as recovery crews assess the waterlogged facility. Secretary of State Jeb Spaulding said Tuesday it could cost as much as $20 million merely “to clean up and stabilize” state offices that were inundated by flood waters Aug. 28.
Spaulding said he still doesn’t know how much it will cost to make the buildings inhabitable.
“We’re only now starting to really total up the cost,” Spaulding said during a briefing of lawmakers Tuesday morning. “We really can’t give you … any kind of definitive figure.”
While flood waters affected state structures elsewhere in the state, including Rutland, the Waterbury complex represents by far the biggest loss in terms of state buildings.
Damage to the facility has indefinitely displaced nearly 1,600 state employees, many of whom have yet to return to work. Spaulding and Gov. Peter Shumlin said the state is on the verge of securing interim office space for hundreds of workers idled by the flood.
The administration is still mulling its longer-term options, which could include selling the facility to private-sector buyers, according to Spaulding.
“We’re going to issue a (request for proposals) that would allow private developers, housing groups and others to offer proposals for us to consider,” Spaulding said.
Spaulding said the state will receive a $7.5 million insurance payment for damage to the complex.
Spaulding said he expects flood-related damages in Vermont to exceed a key federal threshold: If damage estimates top $80 million, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the repairs. In disasters where the damage tally is less than $80 million, the federal government covers only 75 percent.
Spaulding said the administration will not make any major decisions about the future of the Waterbury complex without input from the full Legislature, which reconvenes in January.
A panel of lawmakers Tuesday afternoon OK’d $5 million in emergency spending for recovery-related expenditures, money the Legislature will backfill in the annual budget-adjustment bill that usually get passed sometime in January.
Rep. Janet Ancel, a Calais Democrat and chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, said expenses related directly to flood damage aren’t the only dilemma facing lawmakers when they return in January.
More than 700 homes were destroyed or damaged in the floods, along with scores of business properties. Ancel said the destruction will have a depressing effect on grand lists in many towns, resulting in lower-than-expected revenues for the Education Fund.
“I realize we don’t know what the dollars are,” Ancel said. “But it is a real problem that we need to address.”