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‘It’s a long shot’

WALLINGFORD — Fire Chief Peter Struble is seeking a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help buy a permanent emergency generator for Sheehan High School.

A unanimous vote of the Town Council Tuesday night gave the mayor permission to sign off on the grant application. The post-disaster mitigation grant is available to municipalities through FEMA when there is a presidentially declared disaster in a county. New Haven County has had three presidentially declared disasters in the last two years, Struble said. If the town gets a grant, it would pay for 75 percent of a generator, which costs $448,000. The town would be responsible for $112,000, Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said.

Struble was honest as he talked Tuesday night about the town’s chances of receiving a grant.

“It’s a long shot,” Struble said. “It’s a competitive environment.”

The purchase of the diesel generator would be a step toward the goal of being able to house 10 percent of the population for 72 hours, Struble said. In Wallingford, 10 percent of the population is about 4,600 people. This goal was established while working with municipalities in the area over the last year on a regional mitigation plan, Struble said.

Asked by Councilor John LeTourneau, a Republican, if the town has a chance of getting the money, Struble said he wouldn’t have spent time applying if there weren’t a chance. The concern, Struble said, is that shoreline towns are at a greater risk for disaster and FEMA might take that into account. But at the same time, he said, if a large shelter with power were established at Sheehan High School, the town could potentially act as a refuge for the entire region.

None of the schools in town have generators, Struble said. Four of five firehouses do have generators, as well as the police headquarters. The Cook Hill firehouse acts as a shelter in town, and 35 people could be housed there, Struble said.

With power supplied by the Electric Division, the town hasn’t had to worry about massive outages, he said. But, “I’m paid to worry about the what-ifs.”

“The what-ifs can become reality very, very quickly,” Struble said. “It’s the potential opposed to the history we’ve had.”

The choice of Sheehan High School for a generator was made because it’s newer and on higher-ground (than Lyman Hall High School), Struble said.

Also, “Lyman Hall High School is in one of the first zones that would come back into power in the case of an outage,” Dickinson said. “Sheehan would have to wait.”

So by giving generator power to Sheehan, “two locations can potentially be used” for shelter, Dickinson said.

“I have concern that if we don’t get this grant, that we are still at risk without a generator,” Councilor John Sullivan, a Democrat, said. “And I personally think it’s important enough to have the generator ready to go on standby should there ever be a situation.”

Sullivan suggested making a budget request next year if the grant isn’t approved.

“That can be evaluated and discussed,” Dickinson said.

“I encourage the council to consider what we need to do in the future regardless if we get this or not,” said Town Councilor Jason Zandri, a Democrat who is running for mayor.

Town Councilor Nick Economopoulos, a Democrat, said Tuesday that he thought the town had discussed the need for generators last November. He asked why a generator wasn’t budgeted for in the spring.

If the grant isn’t approved, “again we go another whole winter and storm season unprepared,” Economopoulos said. “The urgency is not felt.”

“Everything has its own argument, but for us to look to budget this when a grant is available would be open to criticism ...” Dickinson told Economopoulos.

Economopoulos left the meeting before a vote was taken on the grant application.

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