One more test for Middlebury River flood project

Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 deposited several feet of sediment in Middlebury River upstream of the Grist Mill Road Bridge, and more than six feet of scour took place along the retaining wall just downstream of the bridge.

EAST MIDDLEBURY — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will require a study of the potential environmental impacts of a $2 million plan to keep the Middlebury River from jumping its banks in East Middlebury village. This environmental assessment is expected to be one of the final hurdles before a scheduled start to construction next summer.

The Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday voted unanimously to cover the town’s 25-percent share of the estimated $5,274 assessment. FEMA will cover the rest.

The so-called East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Project has been in the planning stages for several years. East Middlebury village is at the foot of the mountainous trek the river takes adjacent to Route 125 through Ripton. The river has jumped its banks at least three times during the past 11 years, including in 2008, in 2011 (with Tropical Storm Irene) and most recently in July 2017. While none of those flooding events claimed lives, they did leave a lot of property damage in their wake.

Irene in 2011 deposited several feet of sediment upstream of the Grist Mill Road Bridge, and more than six feet of scour took place along the retaining wall just downstream of the bridge. Crews at the time conducted emergency repairs that included sediment removal from the channel and concrete grouting under the exposed base of the retaining wall.

Officials estimate the 2017 flood shaved up to 50 feet off the river bank.

Amy Sheldon is manager of the flood resiliency project. She’s a natural resources planner who happens to live in East Middlebury. A state representative, she also chairs the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee.

Sheldon provided a description of the East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Project. Among other things, it will involve:

• Armoring select sections of the Ossie Road Berm and upstream berms at a cost of $770,250.

• Repairing the existing flood wall at Grist Mill Bridge Road and extend it 150 feet downstream, for $1,053,050.

• Removing large sediment deposits from chute entrances and the top of large bars, for $187,275.

Total project costs are being placed at $2,015,849, and FEMA is expected to cover 75 percent of that amount. Middlebury residents will need to cover the $503,962 balance.

Once FEMA approves its share, Middlebury will hold a bond vote to finance its project obligation.

Construction during the summer of 2020 is expected to take 12 weeks. But first, the project will need to secure a Vermont Stream Alteration Permit, Army Corps of Engineers permission, and a local go-ahead to work within the Fluvial Erosion Hazard Zone.

Once permits are in place, construction bid documents will be drafted and the project will be put out to bid, according to Sheldon.  Organizers will need to negotiate river access rights from all affected landowners.

Middlebury will manage the ongoing monitoring, maintenance at the floodwall and sediment removal from the floodplain once the project is completed, according to Sheldon.

In the meantime, Sheldon and colleague Roy Schiff will conduct the FEMA-mandated environmental assessment of the project area. The assessment, she said, is “a holistic review of the project impacts to the physical environment, air, aesthetics, climate, water, flood plains, wetlands, plants, wildlife, historic resources, socio-economic review, noise, transportation, public health and safety, environmental justice and hazardous materials.”

More information about the flood resiliency project can be found at tinyurl.com/yy9oyx5t.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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