Two weeks after Tropical Storm Irene pushed rivers and creeks through towns with enough power to move buildings and shatter roadways, Vermont’s return to normalcy is painfully slow.
Take Wilmington, among the hardest-battered communities in the Aug. 28 storm. At Irene’s height, some four feet of water was flowing through the firehouse. Monday, the firefighters were back in their building, but conditions are less than ideal.
It’s a scene repeated in towns across the state where flooding took out roads and damaged houses.
“Everything on the trucks was saved,” Fire Chief Ken March said. “We lost all our training gear; all our records, our computers and telephones, radios.”
In the flood’s aftermath, March said he and his crews have gradually returned to slightly more predictable routines: Local roads have been repaired sufficiently to allow access to emergency vehicles; last Thursday, the fire station regained phone service.
“In general, the town is making tremendous progress,” he said.
But ample challenges remain for dozens of Wilmington residents and business owners. The fire station, as with so many buildings in the downtown, has yet to completely dry out; its walls sport “a fuzzy green mold,” March said, “It smells like an old gym locker room.”
“No, it’s not good. But we have no choice. We have other place to go,” he added.
The department’s finances likewise remain in limbo: March is waiting for insurance appraisers to arrive and mull the cost of repairs and rehabilitation, of damaged and missing equipment.
“There’s still so much to do, and it’s going to take time,” he said. “It’s going to make for a long winter.”
After the Aug. 28 storm, more than 100 Vermont roads were closed.
As of Monday afternoon, 15 sections of state highway and 20 state bridges remain off limits to traffic due to flood damage, said Chris Cole, director of policy and planning for the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
Right after the storm, 139 road segments and 33 bridges were out of commission, Cole said.
State transportation agency planners are still trying to determine how many town roads and bridges are closed. Cole said a series of meetings with local officials this week would likely pin down that number.
U.S. 4, the major east-west route across central Vermont between Rutland and White River Junction remains closed, but will likely open to traffic by the end of the week, Cole said. Three private contractors are helping state transportation workers repair the badly damaged highway, he said.
That highway, along with other recently repaired roads won’t be in pristine condition, Cole said. “There will be delays, there will still be construction, there will be a patchwork of dirt and pavement,” he said. “The public is urged to use all due caution. It’s not the fully built roadway they have come to expect from Vermont,” he said.
Three state highways are so badly damaged that they will remain closed for an indefinite period of time, Cole said, adding he does not know if that means weeks or months. Those highways are Vermont 106, 107 and 131.
Like in Wilmington, municipal services in some flood-struck towns were displaced. Some have settled into new, temporary offices. The Waterbury Police Department relocated to 27 Butler St. in the municipal recreation building more than a week ago, Waterbury Police Patrolman Adam Hubacz said.
The town’s police station at 51 South Main St. was damaged in the Aug. 28 flood. “We got hit pretty good,” he said.
The insurance company National Life donated cubicles so the police department could establish its temporary offices, Hubacz said. For the week or so after the storm, the police department essentially operated from remote locations and police cruisers, he said.
The Waterbury municipal offices are also in a temporary location at Thatcher Brook Primary School. Like the police department, the municipal offices also located at 51 South Main St. were damaged.
Most, but not quite all the employees who formerly worked at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ office in Waterbury begin moving Thursday into space in Winooski that used to house Vermont State Assistance Corp. staff before that organization had to downsize.
The move is one of the first big relocations of some of the 1,586 employees dislocated when floodwaters from Tropical Storm Irene forced the closure of the state’s Waterbury Office Complex.
State officials offered a list Monday outlining other likely moves for dislocated workers:
• The Department for Children and Families will move to offices on the IBM campus in Essex Junction, beginning with 50 staff on Sept. 19.
• The Department of Aging and Independent Living is scheduled to move into office space on Harvest Lane in Williston. The far end of Harvest Lane is home to Wal-Mart and Home Depot, but the other end curls through office buildings. State officials didn’t list the new address.
• The Secretary of the Agency of Human Services will have an office as 208 Hurricane Lane as will the agency’s call center staff.
• Some of the central office staff from the Department of Corrections have already moved to 372 Hurricane Lane. The remainder of the correction’s central staff will move to offices in the Capital Plaza Hotel in Montpelier.
• The Vermont State Hospital staff who aren’t scattered across the state with patients will move to offices in South Barre that the Vermont State Lottery used to lease.
• Twenty Human Resources workers are scheduled to move into Montpelier office space owned by the New England Culinary Institute.
• The Department of Information and Innovation will try to squeeze 50 more technology employees into vacant nooks and crannies at 133 State St., a large office building next to the Statehouse.
• Likewise, the Agency of Agriculture will try to find space in Montpelier for its weights and measures group which used to be based in Waterbury.
State officials hope Vermont Legal Aid will be able to return soon to its offices on Main Street in Waterbury.
Relief organizations and fundraisers continue to help Vermont victims of the flooding.
The Vermont Irene Relief Fund organizers announced Monday in Waterbury they would soon start processing applications from small businesses seeking funds to help them recover from the flooding, said Todd Bailey, an associate with KSE Partners and a member of the relief fund’s committee.
The organization formed Aug. 30, two days after the tropical storm struck, has raised $105,000, Bailey said. The group’s goal is to raise at least $250,000.
The money will be distributed to owners of small businessesstatewide that received damage in the flooding. The group had already received about 30 applications as of Monday afternoon.
A panel of seven people, all small business owners or advocates, will review the applications and decide which businesses receive aid, Bailey said. Each business that receives approval could get up to $5,000.
The group’s first meeting to discuss applications is scheduled for Thursday, and some small businesses could receive money from the relief fund by September 23, Bailey said.