Was the Damage Substantial?

By Ned Swanberg and Rebecca Pfeiffer, State of Vermont

After a local flood, fire, or other disaster, an obscure legal responsibility slips out of the fine print to surprise and confound municipal officials: the duty to assess for Substantial Damage (SD).

In 2011, three major flood events affected most of Vermont, and the capacity of municipal Administrative Officers (AO) to conduct SD assessments was an open question. Recently, the Vermont Rivers Program issued updated model hazard area regulations for towns to consider. This update made the SD responsibilities more visible, and subsequently the program has created a default Substantial Improvement and Substantial Damage Procedure, and a spreadsheet to share with people anxious to begin repairs.

The intent of the SI SD Procedure is to provide a specific process for AOs to follow during a time of considerable chaos. The simplified procedure links to additional official information in FEMA 480 and FEMA 213. It also accounts for the calculation of cumulative Substantial Improvement.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the determination of Substantial Damage may be important not only as a threshold to compel safer construction, but also needed for the release of Increased Cost of Compliance, or Hazard Mitigation Grant funds. After the Flood, in the mud and dust when the permitting process is nearly overwhelmed by the demands of recovery, the community needs a clear, consistent and pre-established method for SD determinations in trying times.

The Vermont Rivers Program would like to learn more about how your community has supported post-disaster permitting and Substantial Damage determinations.   Please use the Comment Box below to leave your comments and feedback.

Rebecca Pfeiffer, Lead Floodplain Manager Ned Swanberg, Regional Floodplain Manager Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation dec.vermont.gov/watershed/rivers

The Vermont Rivers Program is one of the charter members of NHMA’s Resilient Neighbor Network (RNN) founded in 2012. The Vermont Rivers Program, in the Agency of Natural Resources, includes the River Corridor and Floodplain Protection Program, as well as the River Management and Streamflow Protection Programs. The State Hazard Mitigation Officer is located separately in Vermont Emergency Management.


Posted in Resilient Neighbors Network | 1 Comment

One Response to Was the Damage Substantial?