By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Gov. James Douglas and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are confident that widespread flood damage caused by the Aug. 6 rainstorms will qualify for a major infusion of federal aid.
Douglas and FEMA Regional Administrator Art Cleaves came to that conclusion on Thursday while surveying some of the infrastructure in several Addison County towns, including roads and bridges, that had been devastated by floodwaters.
As the Addison Independent went to press, officials were still tallying up damage in the hard-hit communities of East Middlebury, Ripton, Hancock, Goshen, Granville, Salisbury, Leicester, Bridport and Forest Dale. Authorities said they expected the damage to easily eclipse the $1 million needed to trigger a federal emergency declaration from the White House, thereby paving the way for up to 75 percent reimbursement for flood-related repairs.
“We’ve been to Ripton, East Middlebury and Salisbury and the damage is quite extensive,” Douglas said during an interview Thursday afternoon at Middlebury State Airport, where he quickly boarded one in a convoy of four Vermont Army National Guard helicopters that flew over the destruction.
“I think this is the most significant (natural disaster) in my tenure,” he added.
Road crews have been working overtime to restore access to roads and bridges heavily damaged when the Middlebury River and a collection of other brooks and streams jumped their banks, sending water cascading across already-saturated ground.
Workers on Thursday had restored emergency access to Route 125 between East Middlebury and Hancock, though it may be many more days before regular, two-way traffic resumes on the busy road.
Crews were looking to make headway on other public infrastructure casualties, including Route 53 along Lake Dunmore in Salisbury/Leicester; Olde Town Road in Ripton; Fernville Road, the Leicester-Whiting Road, Fern Lake Road and Shackett Road in Leicester; Silver Lake Road, Dutton Brook Road, Flora White Road, and Carlisle Hill Road in Goshen; Three Mile Bridge Road and portions of Lower Plains Road (which was also evacuated) in Middlebury; Route 125 between Route 116 and Route 100 in Hancock; a 200-foot section of Pearson Road in New Haven; and portions of Crown Point Road and Swinton Road in Bridport.
The aforementioned list doesn’t include many small, private roadways that have been rendered impassible. Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, said he is concerned about the financial toll the flood damage will take on private property owners.
“Route 125 will get rebuilt by the state,” Jewett said, as he surveyed damage throughout Hancock, part of his legislative district. “But it’s these private property situations that are just heartbreaking.”
Jewett said he will urge the Legislature to establish a revolving loan fund to help affected property owners. The federal Small Business Association (SBA) has also offered low-interest loans for repairs to private property after major flood events.
Meanwhile, state, local and FEMA officials continue to size up repairs.
Douglas reported on Thursday that Salisbury officials estimate it will cost $1 million alone to fix the bridge and the roads south of Branbury State Park, where Sucker Brook came over its banks and took out the bridge.
Douglas noted it took his inspection team 40 minutes to get from Middlebury to Ripton due to an impassable Route 125. Travelers late last week could only get in and out of Ripton via the North Branch Road to the Lincoln Road.
The governor spoke of one road off Route 125 in Ripton where six families are stranded and have fashioned a makeshift bridge for foot traffic. That resourcefulness, coupled with a quick response time from local, state and federal authorities, should pull the region through in good shape, according to Douglas.
“Everybody is coming together very well, which is what we need,” Douglas said.
The American Red Cross set up an emergency shelter in Middlebury’s municipal gym to accommodate people displaced by the flood. The facility came in very handy, as it provided refuge for evacuees of the Silver Towers camp in Ripton late last week.
The damage on Route 125 also forced Addison County Transit Resources (ACTR) to suspend its bus service from Middlebury to Ripton, with no word yet on when the service may resume.
Flood damage also prompted the United States Forest Service (USFS) to close public access to areas of the Green Mountain National Forest deemed hazardous or impassable. Areas closed thus far include the Moosalamoo Campground, Bingo Brook Road and Campground Sites, and the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. Bridges are also gone at Texas Falls and the Falls of Lana.
Elsewhere, floodwaters shifted the Lower Plains Road bridge in East Middlebury, and undermined a portion of the retaining wall that directs the Middlebury River behind 422 East Main St.
Engineers from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) are available to assist landowners, towns and contractors in flood-related recovery efforts with an eye toward preventing worse damage to streams, roads and property in the future.
“The agency wants to work with the public to help ensure the next flood causes less damage …,” said ANR Secretary George Crombie. “How Vermonters recover together from this latest round of flooding will be an important step in that direction.”
Parties interested in the services of ANR engineers should call 802-786-5906 in southern Vermont; 802-279-1143 in central and northeastern Vermont; and 802-879-5631 in northwestern Vermont.
Cleaves said it usually takes around a week for a natural disaster request to be processed. Vermont officially made its request on Wednesday. It was the third such request the state has made since mid-January, all of them due to bad rainstorms.
“Throughout New England, there’s been a very troubling storm system …,” Cleaves said. “New Hampshire and Maine are going through similar circumstances that we’re seeing here in this weather pattern. They aren’t seeing the same damage as here in Vermont during the past two weeks, but similar damage.”