Officials eye excess funds to pay for storm cleanup

A utility pole, wires and trees are strewn across Skokorat Road in Beacon Falls as crews work to clean up on May 16 after a tornado swept through the area May 15. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — The town is planning to move forward with cleaning up some debris left over from a storm in May without federal financial assistance.

During a special joint meeting last week, the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance approved holding a town meeting to ask voters to approve spending up to $300,000 to cover the cost of cleaning up town land.

The Board of Selectmen has scheduled a public hearing on the proposed tornado cleanup. The hearing is July 9 at 6 p.m. at Laurel Ledge Elementary School, 30 Highland Ave.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the storm, which included an EF1 tornado with winds of up to 110 mph that touched down in town on May 15, left about 15,000 cubic yards of debris on town land.

The town received seven bids for the cleanup. The bids were supposed to follow guidelines that would allow the town to apply for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including paying for an independent monitor to oversee the work.

Members of the finance board raised concerns about how high the bids came in for the work. The lowest bid, which officials were considering, was about $214,000. However, it didn’t include an independent monitor, which could cost up to $50,000, and the cost to transport the material to a site approved by the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, according to officials.

Also, officials expressed concerns over how long it would take to get reimbursed, if the town gets reimbursed at all.

In order for the town to receive any type of reimbursement, the federal government would have to declare the storm a federal disaster.

Bielik said he hopes the state receives a federal declaration, but there is no guarantee it will happen.

“If we don’t get it, we are out of luck and we pay the full freight on the entire thing,” Bielik said.

If it does happen, it could take months for the town to see any type of reimbursement, Bielik said.

The two boards voted to reject all seven bids and issued another request for proposals that did not include standards for FEMA reimbursement. The total cost of the work, which would include cleanup, hauling the debris away, and police to direct traffic, is not to exceed $300,000.

The money to pay for the work will come from the town’s unassigned fund balance, which stands at about $420,000, according to Bielik.

Finance Manager Tom Broesler said since the cleanup won’t be overseen by an independent monitor, the town will not be able to apply for a reimbursement from FEMA.

The work the town has already done with its own public works department and any future costs the town may incur that meet FEMA guidelines are eligible for reimbursement, if the federal funds are made available.

The town last month submitted a preliminary reimbursement request as part of a statewide request to FEMA.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the July 5 print edition to include the date of a public hearing, which was scheduled after press time.