Sandy will cost Connecticut more than Irene did last year

Washington — Preliminary cleanup costs and estimates of damage to public roads and buildings don’t reflect it yet, but state officials expects super storm Sandy to cost Connecticut more than Tropical Storm Irene, which did nearly $50 million in damage last year.

The expected high cost of Sandy has raised concern in all levels of state government and Connecticut’s congressional delegation, which has urged President Obama to ask for more money for Sandy recovery when Congress returns to its lame duck session next week.

“Congress has an obligation to move quickly just as it has in other disasters,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “The devastation in some parts of Connecticut is catastrophic.”

Irene cost municipalities and the state government $49.2 million. Seventy-five percent of that cost, or about  $37 million, was reimbursed to state and local governments by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance program.

Upon White House designation of a public disaster area, FEMA pays 75 percent of the cost of debris cleanup and repairs to public roads and bridges.

Preliminary estimates in the four Connecticut counties declared federal disaster areas — Fairfield, Middlesex, New London and New Haven — total about $22.6 million, according to Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

But that’s just a preliminary estimate that is expected to increase.

“We’re still in the process,” said FEMA spokesman Bill Lehman. “We’ve done some assessment and are still computing information.”

The city of Bridgeport alone estimated it had at least $3.5 million in damages to infrastructure.

DeVico also said preliminary estimates of damage in the four counties Obama has not declared major disaster area is about $5 million, a figure that’s also expected to rise.

Gov. Dannel Malloy wants the Obama administration to declare Hartford, Litchfield, Tolland and Windham counties disaster areas so Washington can help pay the cost of Sandy’s damages there.

But the administration, which made a disaster declaration for four additional New York counties on Tuesday, has not responded to Malloy’s request.

Malloy and the governors and senators of all Sandy-hit states also want the Obama administration to pick up all of the public assistance costs, not just 75 percent of them. That would not only require administration consent but also an act of Congress.

In addition, the governors and federal lawmakers from Sandy-affected states want Obama to ask Congress for more money to make sure there is enough funding for all their needs. They also want the president to act quickly as Congress has only weeks left of the lame duck session and a long list of unfinished business to do. That includes trying to prevent going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” that would occur if Bush-era tax breaks are allowed to expire at the end of the year, just days before deep, automatic federal spending cuts go into effect.

Sandy’s damage to public roads and building is dwarfed by what the storm did to private property.

As of Nov. 21, more than 9,300 storm victims in Connecticut applied for assistance from FEMA and other federal emergency programs. But only about 1,900 applications had been approved by that date and $7.9 million spent helping those applicants.

Those figures are expected to skyrocket.

But Connecticut’s storm-related costs will pale besides those of hard- hit New York and New Jersey.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo estimates Sandy will cost his state $33 billion alone.

A letter sent Obama last week by Blumenthal, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and  11 other senators from Sandy affected-states said it is “critical” the White House move quickly so storm victims and state and local governments can receive the money they need before the end of the fiscal year.

“The federal government has a tradition of providing strong support to help states recover from natural disasters,” the letter said. “In addition to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, we request funding for critical disaster relief programs at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Economic Development Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Small Business Administration.”

It’s unclear whether Congress, especially the Republican-led House, will move in the lame duck to appropriate more disaster response money.

“I can’t guarantee what the results will be,” Blumenthal said.