(NECN: Jack Thurston, Colchester, Vt.) - On the waterlogged shores of Lake Champlain, the flood waters are dropping, but slowly. As they do, it's expected they'll reveal more damage to roads, sidewalks, water systems and other public property. The pricetag for repairs is already well into the millions of dollars, and this week, FEMA is helping Vermont towns assess the damage.
Five teams from FEMA are canvassing seven counties in Vermont that had severe losses to public property when heavy rain and melting snow overwhelmed rivers and pushed Lake Champlain to never-before-seen levels. "We're here to help," said FEMA spokesman Kevin Galvin.
In Colchester, Vt., an old rail bed through the Lake has been converted into a recreation path. Flood water and high winds have chewed at the causeway, leaving only the narrowest of walkways in some places. Parts of the path are still crumbling into the waves.
"This is typical of what we see when we're looking at damage to roads and bridges," Galvin explained.
FEMA is working with state agencies and leaders of affected communities to help them file federal emergency applications to cover repairs to municipal infrastructure. Vermonters know it'll take some time for the federal funds to get here, but they expect no big problems qualifying for the money. Colchester needs more than just fixes for the causeway. "We've got to repair the water systems, the roads, and the boat accesses so people can use Lake Champlain again," town manager Al Voegele said.
With water levels falling at less than an inch a day, Vermont is eager to dry out and clean up, to get back on track for summer. FEMA will be in Vermont all week making the rounds and meeting with officials in several towns.
The agency is only working to assess municipal damage. Hundreds of Vermont homeowners will have to fix their private properties themselves. Only about 15 or 20 percent of people in the area have flood insurance. Leaders in Colchester tell NECN most homes here were built with the assumption that Lake Champlain would never get above 102 feet, and it's been at more than 103 feet.