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Flood tears through Ripton

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KYLE KOWALCZYK AND his son, Bryce, explore a washed out section of North Branch Road in Ripton after the June 14 flooding. The Kowalczyks and several other families were stranded by washed out roads, private drives and a bridge.<br /> Photo by Judy Kowalczyk

By JOHN FLOWERS

RIPTON — Road crews on Wednesday were still stabilizing roads, culverts and small bridges decimated by a powerful June 14 rainstorm that stranded dozens of residents in Ripton and East Middlebury.

“All we can do right now is fill in the ruts and get people moving,” said Ripton Road Commissioner Ron Wimett, who with other state and local workers has spent untold hours since Saturday’s rainstorm at the controls of heavy equipment, filling massive craters and gullies carved into the North Branch Road and other rural lanes that could not stand up to the torrential downpour that forced the Middlebury River and its tributaries to hop their respective banks. One estimate indicated more than six inches of rain fell in Ripton during just a few hours Saturday night.

“We’re hoping people are safe and that the federal government and someone can help us,” Wimett added. “We can’t incur costs like this.”

Vermont Emergency Management (VEM) officials on Tuesday were unsure whether the storm damage in Addison and Rutland counties would amount to the $1 million necessary to trigger a federal declaration of emergency, which would result in the release of government aid.

To qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance, the state must sustain approximately $1 million in damage to public infrastructure like roads, bridges, public buildings, or any other municipal property. There are also county thresholds that need to be met. If local estimates are correct, Addison and Rutland counties may meet the criteria.

Wimett, on Tuesday evening, said he was confident the repair bill will reach seven figures.

“With the cost of materials and fuel prices, we’ll reach $1 million, no problem,” he said.

Absent a federal declaration, there would be no outright grants for repairs from the FEMA. That would leave the possibility of low-interest loans for homeowners, renters and business owners through the Small Business Administration (SBA).

As of Wednesday, some residents affected by the storm were still waiting for their respective roads to be restored to a point where they could make it to major, paved arteries like Route 125 — which itself was out of commission for several hours on Sunday.

RAIN PELTING DOWN

Many North Branch Road residents went to bed during the June 14 storm well aware of the rain pelting down on their roofs, but were jolted the next morning to see an eerie scene of devastation.

Phil and Colleen Bullied knew something was amiss when a man came to their door at 10:30 Saturday evening saying his truck was stuck in the mud.

“He was asking for a flashlight to get home,” Colleen Bullied said. “It was raining, and we figured he had run off into a gutter.”

When she woke up the next morning, Bullied saw that the family’s driveway had washed out. She was also taken aback by what she didn’t see.

“I thought, ‘our road is usually pretty quiet, but darn, this is dead,’” she recalled.

Phil Bullied thought he’d go down to get some hydraulic fluid for his plow. He called off the trip when he saw what was left of North Branch Road.

“The way the road looked, he didn’t dare go down,” Colleen Bullied said.

They, and other residents, were isolated on both sides; they couldn’t get to the Lincoln-Ripton Road, and they couldn’t go down toward Middlebury in an effort to access Route 125.

Thankfully, the Bullieds and most of their neighbors did not lose their electricity or telephone service during the ordeal.

Judy and Kyle Kowalczyk also received a jolt on Sunday morning when they viewed their section of North Branch Road.

“We’re totally stranded,” Judy Kowalczyk said on Monday. “We’re not going anywhere. I don’t see us getting out of here for at least a few days.”

Thanks to swome perseverance and a kind neighbor, the Kowalczyks did make it out later that day. They were able to park their vehicle at a neighbor’s house that stands just before a large culvert/small bridge over the North Branch Road that was knocked out by the raging waters. They then crossed the river by foot, got a ride into Middlebury and rented a car. By this method of transferring from the rented car to their personal car, they were able to guarantee trips to and from Middlebury.

Like the Bullieds, the Kowalczyks did not think Saturday’s storm would produce the crater-pocked landscape they observed on Sunday.

“I felt I’d seen worse rainstorms in Ripton than this,” Kowalczyk said. “I couldn’t believe the roads got washed out that much; they’re gone.”

Other roads severely damaged during the storm included the Dugway; Barker Road; Dan Dragon Road and the Natural Turnpike. Lincoln also saw road damage in isolated spots.

Some people compared the Dugway to a “canyon.”

“The Dugway has never washed out to this extreme before,” said Wimett, who added that crews will be putting in 12-hour days until all roads are again made passable. As of Monday evening, the North Branch Road had been made 90-percent open, with one-lane traffic, according to Wimett. Crews were expected to focus on repairs to Route 125 and North Branch Road initially, then move on to the side roads.

Bill and Tiffany Sargent woke up on Sunday to find their driveway washed out, leaving two of their vehicles stranded at home.

“We have one vehicle down below,” Tiffany Sargent said, with a sense of relief. The Sargents are also relieved that the town of Ripton had installed some cement buttresses on either side of their driveway, or the damage could have been worse.

“We had some water in the basement, but it’s not too bad,” Sargent said of the storm.

“We want to thank all the road crew people out there.”

Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner spent much of Monday surveying damage in East Middlebury, which was largely confined to North Branch Road. The biggest job for Middlebury, according to Werner, will be replacing two very large culverts at the intersection of North Branch Road and Dan Dragon Road. Plans called for the culverts and related supplies to arrive in town on Wednesday or Thursday, with work to begin immediately. The work will be hired out to contractors.

“We are looking at tens of thousands of dollars,” Werner said of the repair costs. “It may be a week before two-way traffic is restored on North Branch Road.”

Middlebury may be able to withstand the financial burden of the repairs by using money from its gravel road maintenance account.

“It may mean we will not be able to do some of the other things we planned to do on gravel roads this year,” Werner said.

An SBA assessment team will be in Vermont starting on Thursday to evaluate the damage. Individuals who have property that sustained damage are encouraged to report the damage to their local town government.

A FEMA team has also been requested and should be in the state by the end of the week. Cities and towns are encouraged to complete the survey from VEM or contact its local Vermont Agency of Transportation district office to report damage.

Those wishing to report local damage should contact Ripton Town Clerk Sally Hoyer at 388-2266, Lincoln emergency management coordinator Lucky Diamond at 453-2802 or Middlebury Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo at 388-8100, ext. 201.

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