ADDISON - It's not just Goodrich Aerospace and Porter Medical Center that are being affected by the closing of the Lake Champlain Bridge. Small businesses, like the Bridge Restaurant and the West Addison General Store, are are being affected negatively, too.
Even local farmers are beginning to feel the pain of facing either a 100-mile overland detour or a crowded trip on a hastily assembled ferry flotilla. In some cases, ferries may not be able to accommodate certain heavy equipment.
In the week since New York Department of Transportation officials deemed the Champlain Bridge connecting Chimney Point, Vermont to Crown Point, New York unsafe for vehicle or pedestrian traffic, federal, state and local officials have been hard at work pinpointing and addressing the wide-range of challenges created by the bridge closure.
Gov. Jim Douglas spoke with his staff via conference call from Seoul, South Korea to hear the latest update on the situation. At Douglas' direction, members of his cabinet have been coordinating efforts to ensure the needs of Vermonters, beyond the immediate transportation crisis, are being adequately addressed.
"This is certainly our top transportation priority but I want to ensure the people of Vermont that we are doing all we can across state government to assist those affected by this terrible situation," said Douglas.
"That is why I have asked members of my administration from the Agency of Commerce, Agency of Agriculture, Vermont Emergency Management and others to determine what programs and services are needed and available in the short, medium and long terms to help those affected at this difficult time. It's also why we're working so closely with the members of our Congressional delegation to ensure we're exploring all options available, at every level of government."
The administration's chief focus is developing options for near-term solutions to the bridge closure.
Secretary Dave Dill and his team at VTrans will work through the weekend to study possible bridge repairs, as well as a range of alternatives, including new and expanded vehicle and pedestrian ferry options.
Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie toured the bridge with VTrans officials on Wednesday and participated in the conference call today.
"As a former Goodrich employee, and after my conversations this week with the many Vermonters whose livelihoods have been impacted by this unfortunate situation, I know first hand the importance of the Champlain Bridge to the economic and social well-being and safety of Addison County," Dubie noted. "I appreciate the hard work being done to assist those who have been affected by the bridge closure. I'll continue to work closely with the governor's team as we work to address the breadth of challenges that this disruption has caused."
"Getting businesses money to help them cope with the loss of this transportation link is critical, as is making sure that the impact on their workforces is minimized," said Economic, Housing and Community Development Commissioner, Tayt Brooks.
There are two loan programs operated by the U.S. Small Business Administration that could help businesses. The first is the American Recovery Capital program that provides no-interest loans of up to $35,000 from private banks that are 100 percent guaranteed by the SBA.
The money can be used to pay existing loans, including credit card debt used in the business. To be eligible the business must have been in business two years and must have been profitable in one of the last two years.
The other loan is an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which provides low-interest loans of up to $2 million to help small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private, non-profit organizations of all sizes meet their financial obligations.
To access the loan, the governor must certify to the SBA that at least five businesses have been harmed by the disaster, and the business must have applied for a standard bank loan and been rejected.
Local farmers have been affected by the Champlain Bridge closing.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets reports that they are in contact with the farmers and are working with other agriculture related agencies and organizations to provide assistance wherever possible. "This transportation disruption that impacted some farmers who have been separated from their crops and their heard," Secretary Roger Allbee reported. "A team is hard at work along with local officials, helping each farmer address their unique challenges."
Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) has coordinated with Vermont 211 and encourages Vermonters to dial 211 for more information about the programs mentioned above. "Vermonters with questions about programs, services, and alternative transportation options should call Vermont 211 for the latest information," said Barb Farr, director of VEM.