EAST LYME — Nearly eight years after Hurricane Sandy and nine years after Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on the Connecticut shoreline, East Lyme finally received a combined $1.73 million reimbursement check from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“Those two hurricanes encompassed a lot of my time in the town of East Lyme and my tenure as first selectman,” said State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme. “I pushed FEMA very hard along with now-Representative Holly Cheeseman to qualify and now it’s finally paid off.”
Nearly every other shoreline town – including Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, all the way down to Greenwich – qualified for and received reimbursement funds from FEMA within a year or two of the storms.
“Eight years is not the normal, but when there are disputes like this it can drag on,” said Scott Devico, public information officer for the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
The reason for the delay was a disagreement between the town and FEMA over the assessment of damages caused by the storm.
“The lesson is never say never,” Formica said.
With the roads and boardwalk damage long repaired, current East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said the funds will most likely be used to renovate the former Honeywell Office building into a police and public safety complex.
“I’ve asked the Board of Finance to pull back on bonding for the project and put it in a holding pattern so we can talk about this $1.73 million being spent on the public safety building,” Nickerson said. “It’s public safety, emergency management, that’s what this money should be used for.”
“This will allow us to start work much sooner and move all four departments into the building before anticipated,” Nickerson said. “It might not have the elevator or the cell block or something else, but it would be a huge start.”
Both Nickerson and Formica said that several people have pointed to the irony of the announcement, just as Tropical Storm Isaias plunged more residents of East Lyme into darkness than any other town in the state. But, neither estimated that Isaias caused nearly the same amount of damage as Irene or Sandy.
On the state level, Devico said the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection has already begun a preliminary assessment of damages in order to apply for a new round of FEMA reimbursement funding.