$10.5 million FEMA grant going unclaimed; Money intended for relief of disasters.

Position:LOCAL NEWS
 
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Byline: Bradford L. Miner

WORCESTER - The October 2011 snowstorm left home upon home dark and cold, in many instances for a week or more.

The upside of that storm was that it triggered $10.5 million in grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be spent on reducing the human impact and cost of future natural disasters in Massachusetts.

The rule of thumb, according to federal officials, is that every dollar spent in removing or decreasing hazards before a hurricane, tornado or blizzard, saves three dollars in rescue and cleanup costs afterward.

Both the Central Massachusetts and Montachusett regional planning commissions are working with their respective cities and towns on five-year hazard mitigation plans.

Only those communities with a FEMA-approved plan are eligible to apply for the grant money, which has a 75-to-25 percent match.

As of now, none of the 22 Montachusett communities - the Fitchburg-Leominster-Gardner region - is working toward the Dec. 3 deadline for project applications, according to Eric Smith, regional planner.

And Ryan Lundergan, Central Massachusetts planner, said he knows of but a handful of his 40 Worcester-area communities with the combination of an approved plan and a project eligible for the competitive grant.

The tropics haven't been particularly busy this year, but there are nearly two months of hurricane season to go.

FEMA grant program money must be used for new projects that are both long-term and economical and will either limit or prevent harm from a future natural disaster. Repair or maintenance projects are not eligible.

Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the pot of money currently available statewide was triggered by last year's surprise Halloween snowstorm.

"There is no ceiling so to speak on any one project, and theoretically one city or town could get the entire amount available. It would never happen, but there is no established limit," Mr. Judge said.

He added that applications are not ranked in favor of snow-related hazards because the money is coming from FEMA's response to the snowstorm.

What planners and emergency management officials did acknowledge is that some communities hard-hit by last year's June 1 tornado, tropical storm Irene, and October snowstorm may have trouble with the 25 percent match because they are still erasing the red ink from the cleanup from the three disasters.

Mr. Judge said that historically 80 percent of the...

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