EAST MIDDLEBURY — Town leaders have applied for $1.85 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants to pursue a series of improvements to the Middlebury River designed to prevent future flooding in East Middlebury.
The Middlebury River Task Force has been working with project Manager Amy Sheldon and a consultant in developing a series of recommendations to keep the river within its banks during major flood events, such as Tropical Storm Irene two years ago. Residents along portions of Route 125 (East Main Street), Ossie Road and other East Middlebury streets have seen their yards — and in some cases, basements — inundated with water on several occasions in recent years during prolonged rainy spells. Raging waters have carved out new channels and deposited sediment in the Middlebury River, prompting the waterway to spill into residential areas.
Local officials, with state and federal support, decided to plan some short- and long-term fixes to protect neighbors of the river.
“I see so many of my fellow (East Middlebury) residents who have been scared, with the recent flood warnings,” said Susan Shashok, a selectwoman and member of the River Task Force. “It would be nice to have something we could do that would be helpful (to prevent flooding).”
Task Force members now believe they have developed a helpful “East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Plan,” following study of a 1.7-mile segment of the river stretching from the Sand Hill Bridge to Route 7 Bridge. The panel, made up primarily of East Middlebury residents and officials, reviewed trouble spots along the river and several possible remedies. The task force ultimately advanced four measures, unanimously endorsed by the town selectboard last week. They include, in priority order:
• Restoring roughly 5 acres of floodplain between Lower Plans Road and Grist Mill Road. This work, at an estimated cost of $775,000, would include increasing sediment and debris storage area, and reducing sediment deposition upstream from the Grist Mill Bridge while scouring the river under that span. Also included: Armoring the edge of the newly restored floodplain. Life expectancy of the project — two to three “large floods,” according to the task force’s assessment.
• Repairing the existing floodwall downstream of the Grist Mill Bridge, at a cost of around $350,000. This would involve installing a cut-off wall for scour protection and tie-back anchors to help keep the existing wall in place. Life expectancy — 50 years.
• Armoring 1,400 feet of the protective berm off Ossie Road, for an estimated $200,000. Life expectancy — 20 years.
• Extending the floodwall downstream of the Grist Mill Bridge by approximately 110 feet, at an estimated cost of $525,000. Life expectancy — 75 years.
With the selectboard’s consent, the task force on Friday formally applied to FEMA for the combined $1,850,000 it would take to do the four projects. The town would have to come up with a 25-percent match, amounting to $462,500. That local match could come through state grants, local funds, private contributions and in-kind contributions. Officials said the work could be phased in over a few years, depending how quickly the local matching funds are secured. And of course there is no guarantee that the town will get all, or even a portion, of the requested FEMA funds.
But task force members are optimistic, given the Middlebury River’s growing, erratic history during flood events. Upstream from Middlebury, the town of Ripton has already completed a substantial project in an attempt to harness the river within the village as it flows along Route 125. The river has, in recent years, taken out large chunks in Route 125, forcing detours and major reconstruction projects.
“We think we have set East Middlebury on a much safer path,” Sheldon said of the proposed improvements.
But officials cautioned there are still some hurdles to cross, aside from funding.
Affected riverfront residents will need to lend their support to the project, by way of granting easements and/or other permission to get the work done. A few residents voiced some concerns about the project — that it could affect the fish habitat or could unwittingly make flooding conditions worse in some areas — at the selectboard’s July 9 meeting.
Task force members said the projects will be further fleshed out, with continued public input, during the coming weeks. They said they had to act quickly with the current plans in order to meet FEMA’s Friday application deadline.
“It’s a work in progress,” Shashok said.
“You can’t tell the river where to go; this gives us the tools to work with it a little better.”
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.