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County digs out from major March storm

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Posted on March 10, 2011 |
By Andrew Stein



storm8439.jpg
MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE STUDENT Kaylen Baker braves the wind and snow of Monday’s storm to make a trek to the Middlebury Post Office. The storm is on the books as among the biggest to ever hit the Champlain Valley. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

ADDISON COUNTY — The blizzard that dumped as much as two feet of snow on Addison County early this week blindsided many Vermonters in the hopeful midst of an early spring reverie, leaving many locals floundering for help in a sea of white.

The large snowstorm that came on top of an unusually big winter for snow (see story) closed three state highways and numerous local roads, left several hundred people without power for a time, kept many people from their work and resulted in two snow days for most Addison County youngsters — three for Shoreham students.

In Vergennes, like in many other towns across the county and the state, people were working overtime to simply move the mountains of white stuff out of the way.

The road crew is “doing the best they can to move the snow and find a place to put it, but they’re far from over,” Michelle Eastman, the administrative assistant in the Vergennes city offices, said on Tuesday afternoon.

The sheer volume of snow caused problems, but the winds of Lake Champlain compounded that. The Vermont Agency of Transportation closed three roads on Monday because crews just couldn’t keep them clear. Route 22A, a busy corridor on the western side of the county, was closed from Addison Four Corners north to Vergennes. The state also closed Route 125 from Chimney Point to Route 22A and Route 17 from Chimney Point to Route 22A.

SHOREHAM SOCKED IN

In Shoreham, where winds drifted snow to 16 feet, town officials declared a “state of emergency” on Monday because “all of our first responders were immobile,” said Emergency Coordinator Robin Conway. She said many state and local roads were impassable, meaning that in a crisis first responders wouldn’t be able to reach many town residents.

Conway and a committee of 13 helped manage Shoreham’s first state of emergency in town history. On Monday, Shoreham officials’ main goals were to reach residents who needed urgent help and get access to dairy farmers, who needed to get their milk out to processors.

“We focused on roads with bulk dairy tanks to make sure that they could be emptied to mitigate any milk dumping,” Conway said. Milk dumping would lead to thousands of lost dollars and gallons of milk, she pointed out.

By Tuesday afternoon, Conway said, 95 percent of Shoreham roads were usable. But, on Wednesday, Addison Central Supervisory Union officials decided not to open Shoreham Elementary School and not to run buses that would take older Shoreham youth to Middlebury Union middle and high schools because, according to ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease, “roads were not passable.”

“We did not think that we could get buses up and down the roads safely,” Sease said.

Elsewhere in the county, schools were closed Monday and Tuesday — the first back-to-back snow days since the Valentine’s Day blizzard of 2007.

Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Superintendent Tom O’Brien explained that Monday’s closure was due to the arrival of the huge amount of snow, and Tuesday’s was the result of schools’ “inability to move that much snow in a short period of time.”

Emergency exits, parking lots, sidewalks, and main entrances at most schools across the county still needed clearing on Tuesday, he said.

Central Vermont Public Service reported that 270 of its customers in Addison County were without power on Monday morning due to the storm. Power was restored to most residents within several hours, but impassable roads delayed a complete recovery until that evening, CVPS spokeswoman Christine Rivers said. Later Monday night, about 140 more local residents lost power, but that was restored after four hours.

BUSINESSES COPE

While many Addison County businesses were closed on Monday, including all seven branches of the National Bank of Middlebury, some were open.

The Marble Works Pharmacy opened with only half of its staff at both its Middlebury and Vergennes locations.

“We were one of the only stores open in Vergennes on Main Street,” manager Diane Gray said.

In order to get willing and able employees to work, a four-wheel-drive carpool was initiated.

“We feel that we provide an important service to the community,” Gray said.

Although sections of Routes 17 and 125 leading to Chimney Point were closed for much of Monday, the Lake Champlain Transportation Company ran one ferry around the clock between Chimney Point and Crown Point, N.Y. But company officials said business was drastically less than usual.

Porter Hospital spokesman Ron Hallman said that the hospital and Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center “didn’t feel any tangible negative consequences from the storm.” It was reported that while many staff members encountered challenges getting to work — and many were unable to reach hospital facilities — those physicians, nurses and other staff members on hand were able to effectively carry out their responsibilities.

State judiciary offices were closed Monday across Addison County and throughout much of the state. Additionally, the Vermont Department of Human Resources announced that state offices in all counties except Bennington and Windsor were authorized to operate on a reduced workforce status on Monday, and many state offices were closed.

TOWNS CLEAN UP

In Ferrisburgh, a Vergennes Area Rescue Squad first responder worked with the Ferrisburgh road crew to plow out the driveway of a resident in need of medical attention. A similar incident was reported in Addison, where the town road crew helped gain access to a resident in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In Weybridge a local firefighter reported that the roof of the former Weybridge fire station, now in private ownership, collapsed under the weight of the snow.

Numerous town officials warned that residents should keep their outside vents clear to prevent carbon monoxide buildup in their homes.

The town of Middlebury dealt with equipment failure on Monday. Two broken trucks and a sidewalk plow delayed the cleanup. Director of Operations Dan Werner on Tuesday said this equipment was undergoing repair, but “the downtown area won’t be finished until Friday night.” 

“We’ll keep at it until Mother Nature helps us out,” Werner said. “It’s been a long winter, everybody needs a break.”

Reporter Andrew Stein is at Andrews@addisonindependent.com.

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