I have been working with communities across Vermont for the past 15 years to assess, prioritize and address their bridge and culvert needs. Many of our smallest towns and villages are located in mountainous regions where roadways have numerous stream crossings with aging structures that weren’t designed to meet the hydraulic capacity standards we have today, nor are they prepared for the increasing large storm events we are experiencing with climate change.
Communities are faced with a challenge when seeking funding assistance for both engineering design services and construction replacement costs for locally owned bridges and culverts. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has supported pre-disaster hazard mitigation since 1997, and up until recently, communities would only have an opportunity to apply for Hazard Mitigation Grant funding after a major disaster event was declared. While this program has been extremely helpful in supporting many important projects to advance throughout our country, it has presented challenges for smaller communities with less reserve capital to complete the application - which requires an engineering assessment to understand existing and proposed conditions and the development of accurate project cost for the completion of the Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA). While these expenditures are eligible for reimbursement should the project be awarded the Hazard Mitigation grant, there is an inherent risk that the BCA of 1.0 or above will not be met and the project would not qualify for submission, and thus expenditures for the analysis and grant application preparation are absorbed by the community (A BCA of 1.0 is the balance point representing the proposed project cost versus the known or projected expenses associated with the existing structure – meaning a BCA of 1.0 or above represents a project investment that will save money over its lifespan).
Enter the FEMA BRIC Program
Recognizing the success of being proactive with our emergency preparedness, in September 2020, FEMA initiated the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program. This relatively new program supports state, local communities, tribes, and territories as they undertake hazard mitigation projects. BRIC is an annual program with the Notice of Funding Opportunities (NOFOs) opening in September and closing in January, and it is not tied to a declared event – allowing eligible applicants to plan accordingly. State Hazard Mitigation Officers assist with application submissions and, as application processes can vary by state (beginning earlier than September in some locations), it is advised to reach out to your State Hazard Mitigation Officer early in your planning process.
Specifically, the BRIC Project Scoping Activities Program allows communities to complete scoping services that determine if a project is eligible for further BRIC funding. Per the FEMA Program Support Material these services include, but are not limited to:
- Scoping and developing hazard mitigation projects, including engineering design and feasibility studies
- Conducting meetings, outreach, and coordination with potential subapplicants and community residents to identify potential future mitigation projects
- Evaluating facilities or areas to determine appropriate mitigation actions
- Incorporating environmental planning and historic preservation considerations into project planning activities
- Collecting data for benefit-cost analyses, environmental compliance, and other program requirements
- Conducting hydrologic and hydraulic studies for unmapped flood zones or other areas where communities propose to submit hazard mitigation projects
- Coordinating, scoping, and developing regional or multi-community hazard mitigation projects that require coordination to cohesively address resiliency and sustainability goals
- Utilizing third-party cost estimation services for project budgeting across subapplications
- Contracting services to address data consistency needs for other project application categories, such as environmental planning and historic preservation, cost-sharing mechanisms, and work schedules
With this healthy list of services being completed for a project, communities can better understand the project’s need and eligibility for future funding. The BRIC Project Scoping program pays 75% of the cost (25% local match, or less for small, impoverished communities). That’s a win – even if your project doesn’t meet the BCA of 1 or above, having this foundation of information will help with seeking other grant assistance through state and federal programs. All of this information lays the foundation for the continued design and development of the project.
Our Recent Experience
I recently assisted the Towns of Stowe and Roxbury, Vermont to prepare their FY2021 BRIC Project Scoping Applications. We worked collaboratively with our excellent state resources, Stephanie Smith, Vermont State Hazard Mitigation Officer and, Lisa Kolb, Vermont State Hazard Mitigation Planner to submit quality applications for multiple structures in each community. The online FEMA Grants Outcomes (GO) project scoping subapplication has to be completed by Town staff, but we were able to assist with our knowledge of the project locations and the project goals to prepare question responses for the Town to utilize in advance.
I’m a big supporter of this FEMA BRIC Project Scoping program: It fills a gap in getting projects initiated with communities able to make informed decisions and better prepare for the effects of climate change with safe, resilient transportation infrastructure. Each state determines how much is set aside for project scoping and planning activities – Vermont has set aside $1.5 million for FY2022. This allows for a wide range in quantity and scale of projects selected each year.
Got a project in mind? Feel free to reach out to me. We provide this service for communities across the Northeast and would be happy to discuss further how this program might be the right fit for your project.