By Evan Johnson
Federal Emergency Management Agency staffers were in Vermont last week, appraising damage to roads, bridges and other infrastructure from early July rain storms.
On Thursday, July 13, a two-man team of public assistants plus a public affairs liaison drove from the Vermont Agency of Transportation office in Mendon to Brandon to observe Newton Thompson Road, which had taken some of the heaviest damage during the flooding.
They arrived to find a road that was reduced to a muddy ditch in some spots. When more than three inches of rain fell in just a couple hours on July 1, the Neshobe River flooded its banks and ran through an already flood-prone area. Fifteen homes were evacuated and one business was closed along the half-mile stretch of road, which was torn up and lifted by the water. Other portions of the pavement collapsed, creating deep trenches separating driveways from the roadway.
Other areas of Brandon had fared better. The recently completed $2.3 million culvert in downtown worked as expected and prevented the river from surging through downtown as had happened during tropical storm Irene. Newton Thompson Road, which lies in a flood plain, was the only road in town to be damaged by the storm, said Brandon Public Works Director Daryl Burlett.
“Our job is to assess what the damage is and let you know what your options are,” FEMA employee Keith McGinnis told Brandon Public Works Director Daryl Burlett at the start of their site visit.
For Burlett, this was his fifth natural disaster he’s responded to and he said the flows seen earlier this month were higher than 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. Burlett said the town is still waiting on federal assistance for some of the projects that started six years ago.
“I know how the system works,” he said. “All the paperwork is in, it’s just sitting on the corner of someone’s desk.”
The town has estimated repairing the road and river banks to cost $520,000.
The preliminary assessment is the first step needed before Gov. Phil Scott’s administration can submit a formal request to the federal government for aid to pay for repairs.
While FEMA’s McGinnis and Seth Grill took measurements and pictures of the scene, some residents came out of their homes to get a look.
Brandon resident Brenda Fizur was attending a wedding during the torrential rains and found the flooding kept her from getting back to her house. After spending the night at a friend’s house, she returned home thanks to a ride on a neighbor’s tractor. “I had my wedding duds on – my dress and sandals. It wasn’t pretty.” she said. “I was holding on for dear life.”
She found seven inches of water in her basement. She said she was having her septic tank pumped and her well checked, “just as precautions.”
The FEMA representatives made another Rutland County stop in Wallingford, which saw multiple washouts on gravel side roads that dispersed between 300 and 400 cubic yards of material, according to VTRANS technician Jim Caulin. On Monday, July 17, Wallingford still had one half-mile section of road still closed.
The latest estimates from Vermont Emergency Management include Addison, Caledonia, Lamoille, Orange, Rutland, Washington and Windsor counties recorded damage of over $6.5 million. Under a public assistance disaster declaration, communities in declared counties would be eligible for 75 percent reimbursement of response and recovery costs. The minimum to request federal assistance is $1 million.
Brandon’s downtown is slated to begin a $20 million redevelopment of Route 7 at the end of the month, Burlett said the reconstruction of Newton Thompson Road was the latest addition to a growing list of things to do.
“This is the last thing I need right now,” he said.
Photo by Evan Johnson
FEMA employees Keith McGinnis an Seth Grill survey a collapsed portion of Newton Thompson Road in Brandon on July 13 while Brandon Public Works Director Daryl Burlett (left) looks on.