By Guy Page
Hours after the floodwaters peaked July 10, it became clear that flood plain real estate was getting hammered. Just 12 years after Storm Irene destroyed homes and other buildings on the banks of many Vermont raging rivers, it happened again.
Mobile home parks in Johnson and Berlin, downtowns in Barre and Montpelier were particularly hard-hit. As of last Thursday, 392 homes were reported (via 2-1-1) damaged in Lamoille County, with 181 deemed uninhabitable. In Washington County, where entire blocks of apartment houses were flooded, damaged residences rose to 1,596, with 47.1% uninhabitable. Statewide, 4290 homes were reported damaged, with 763 homes uninhabitable.
As Vermont Daily Chronicle has covered the flood at press conferences and in flooded communities, we’ve heard flooded-out residents and decision-makers in the upper echelons of state and federal government often say the same thing: it makes no sense to rebuild the status quo. Hundred-year floods hitting once a decade simply inflict too much damage. For neither victim nor taxpayer is it sustainable.
It’s much too early for a consensus on improvements with the best outcomes. However, in our travels we have heard many interesting ideas and suggestions, which we share below, for what they are worth:
1. Locate hard-to-replace equipment closer to the ceiling, and further from the floor. For example, retail store coolers could be retrofitted to have their expensive electronics package at the top of the unit, rather than at the bottom.
2. Raise mobile home units in flood plains eight feet higher – either by elevating the whole park eight feet with extensive fill, or just the mobile home units.
3. Build downtown housing with residential units starting on the second floor. The Taylor Street, Montpelier bus terminal/housing building is a good example.
4. Buy out residential lots in the flood plains, and move residents to current or existing housing on higher ground. Gov. Scott said such an ambitious plan would require significant amounts of new federal funding.
5. Sell and leave Vermont. One longtime Washington County resident told me he will sell his oft-flooded home and then move to a state where non-flood prone housing is more affordable.
6. Rebuild highway infrastructure with bigger culverts, etc.. State officials say similar post-Irene improvements worked well.
What state officials say they won’t do is allow much natural debris and boulder removal from the rivers. They say this debris actually slows down the water, making it less prone to major flooding. Some Vermonters say it also backs up and displaces the water, making it MORE prone to flooding.
Readers are encouraged to comment on these ideas, and add their own suggestions.