Mobile home parks located on cheap, flood-plain land

Rte. 302, Berlin trailer park, Tuesday July 11. Jeanne Deree drone photo. This low-lying park and two others in Berlin alone sustained flood damage.

By Tom Evslin

First, kudos to Vermont first responders, road crews, volunteers, neighbors helping neighbors, town and state officials and even FEMA for a very quick and effective response to the immediate flooding emergency. We owe it to all of them and those who’ve been hurt to learn all we can to prevent or at least mitigate recurrences.

Second, we did learn a lot from Irene. Areas which were badly damaged by that storm were not as badly damaged this time – party because the storm track was different, partly because after Irene we replaced aged infrastructure built after the 1927 floods, but also because we built back better: bigger culverts, stronger bridge abutments, and better designed drainage.

What’s most disappointing is to see structures and areas which were rebuilt after Irene flooded again. Should we have rebuilt in those places? Should we rebuild there again? Should what used to be called trailer parks still be located where they were first sited on land which was and is cheap because it is flood-prone? Those flooded out of their homes face a particularly hard time because Vermont is already critically short of inexpensive housing. Some may join the ranks of the long-term unhoused even though they were, literally, staying above water before.

We can make better land available for re-siting manufactured housing than the old flood-prone locations. But the need is now and much of that “better land” is zoned against manufactured housing (although not against decaying farmsteads). Moreover, nothing can happen quickly at an any scale given the onerous Act 250 requirements for any development of ten or more units. From a permitting PoV, it is much easier although short-sighted to rebuild in place.

During the last session the legislature considered both zoning reform and lifting many Act 250 restrictions. It did make it easier to build multifamily housing in downtown areas; that’s a good idea although, as we’ve just seen, some of our downtowns are flood-prone themselves. It is time for a special session of the legislature to deal with the problem they left behind: opening up rural areas of the state, most of the state, to low-cost housing, establishing rapid permitting, and vastly reducing the ability of those who’d rather not see development on other people’s land to delay projects after permits have been granted. There will be reconstruction money. It must go to building back better. There will also be a flood of private money if it can be used effectively instead of dissipated in years of legal battles before anything can be built.

There is a very real danger that, if the legislature does come back, it will squander funds and energy on short-term fixes like perpetually extending motel housing. It will be a huge challenge for Governor Scott to keep them focused on structural reform rather than feel-good appropriations to appease noisy “advocates”.

Yes, Vermont will look somewhat different if there is more visible housing along our roadsides. On the other hand, Vermont will look a lot better the morning after the next extreme weather event if we build back better now on dry land and concede the flood plains back to the rivers. 

The author, an author, entrepreneur, former Vermont state cabinet officer, lives in Stowe. He founded NG Advantage, a natural gas truck delivery company. This commentary is republished with permission from his blog, Fractals of Change.

Categories: Commentary

7 replies »

  1. There is not such thing as a flood victim!
    This was totally preventable.
    Don’t build in the flood plane unless you put that redneck castle on stilts like they do in Louisiana.

    • Who are you to call a trailer park a red neck castle? I have lived in a trailer and I also live in my own home and a home is anything that keeps the weather out and you can call your own. Unfortunately many people can’t afford to build and a trailer is less expensive, they are not redneck for being poor, you should be ashamed for saying that! They are just as good as you and from the way you talk probably better!

      • I would be surprised if that comment above yours is from a Vermonter. Mobile and manufactured home of today are all up to the modern construction codes. Prior to the great trustafarian influx of out of state snobs, Vermonters by the many live and make their homes in manufactured homes. They aren’t trailers because once onsite the wheels are removed and in most cases secured on a cement slab by cables for insurance requirements.

        I would rather hang out with a real person who made their home in a modest dwelling than a snob whose whole live consists of showing the world how wonderful and rich they are. Living in a Stowe Vermont ski mansion or some luxury condo doesn’t change the fact that the person who owns it can be as shallow and a unlikable bore.

        Rednecks get their name from the sunburn on the back of their necks from working the land in the sun. If it wasn’t for them, the snobs would starve. Rednecks are the people who get things done for the wealthy who generally know very little abort anything. They just have money. It just depends on how they got their money.

      • First of all I would consider myself a poster child for being a redneck.
        Second if your gonna park it in the flood zone put it on stilts.
        BTW I grew up in a singlewide on stilts with no electricity.
        Our next door neighbor lived in an old school bus with a railcar on the side they wuz uptown!
        So I know something about it.
        So grow a sense of humor buttercup.
        And no I’m not a Vermonter I grew in places a whole lot poorer than Vermont.

      • Well Red, maybe you should have qualified your comment. There is no way to know whether a comment is snarc, snobbish or just cruel. In a serious situation like losing your home in a flood, which I experienced twice living in an apartment building, I really didn’t see any humor in your comment. I don’t know where your buttercup comment is directed but I can assure you it doesn’t fit my persona, I live in a manufactured home on it’s own real estate far from any flood waters. I’ve also built 4 very nice homes and after my wife passed I needed an affordable home for me. People have all kinds of reasons to live in these parks but it’s mostly financial and has nothing to do with being a redneck.

  2. So??? You think the State of Vermont gives a darn about Vermonters in the trailer parks? They never have and they never will. VT Legislator Nelson Brownell (D) of Pownal/Woodford has approximately a dozen parks in his hometown of Pownal – some in flood zones, many filthy & dilapidated with people living in SUB third-world conditions, and many owned or managed by slum-lords. Ever hear of rural poverty anymore? Of course not, it afflicts primarily white people and therefore doesn’t fit the narrative.

    Senator Sanders & the appropriate departments & agencies within VT have been aware of these locations, and the decay & disease (water quality issues) & dangerous conditions for decades and do virtually nothing meaningful or permanent to help improve the living conditions of these people but instead, bemoan Vermont as a “racist” state, enable & ensure more indigent people in the form of illegal aliens and “refugees” take up residence here as well before ever committing to helping native & long-term Vermonters in these parks, and seek to provide “reparations” to anyone who lands here and claims African descent. And THAT is what the legislature thinks is important. That, and lording over the names of school athletic teams and punishing Vermonters for trying to heat their homes with anything other than electricity.

  3. In the “old days” streams rivers were dredged occasionally for material and to prevent erosion/flooding….I’m well aware this will rile some folks but ya know sometimes those redneck old timers knew what was what….and what else (everyone I know of in vt) are smack dab beside water….junkyards; go check it out.
    And finally they are not “trailers” those are hauled by trucks carrying goods; which also in grave danger ….the homes are “mobile home”
    End of rant!

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