Protecting Vermont from the next 100 year flood: ideas, so far

Agency of Agriculture and Food Markets photo of Montpelier

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. 

Categories: Weather

7 replies »

  1. So, if stuff, trees and branches are “good” and slow down the flooding, then why isn’t manmade stuff getting the same results and allowed? Science and common sense need not apply here.

    Mobile home parks can become RV parks and be bought out. RV’s move out pretty easily.

    Vermont has to get over its abject fear and disdain for modest housing, otherwise known as a single wide mobile home. Their current affordable housing program makes everyone rich, except for the tenant AND invites out of state criminals and those who support the drug dealers to move into our state.

    It’s really simple we need 24 homes of modest means permitted in every town within the next 3 months. It’s an easy thing to do, but the Build Back Better, you will own nothing and be happy crowd don’t want that. They want to make millions off of Vermont’s completely corrupt and insider deals of making more rental housing at $500 a square foot, which is more expensive than luxury slope side condominiums developed for the super-rich and for profits of the developer.

    We can have modular homes shipped to our state. We could solve our housing problems in less than a year. Our problems are completely man made, so it’s easy to fix.

    Montpelier has been against home ownership since the passing of Act 250. People will say, not that’s not true, well here we are 40 years later, and nobody can still get an affordable home.

    Vermonters, Montpelier IS your housing problem. Here’s your sign.

    p.s. Look in the photo and see all the approved new development in serious flood plain, often paid for by tiff money which siphons off education money from the tax base. On top of that Burlington’s built thousands of homes for years on a failed sewer system. Montpelier is home to some of the nastiest insider trading, let me fill my pockets with taxpayer money on this plant.

  2. I know in the spring we will have bigger ice jams if all the debris is not cleared out why doesn’t the state know that?

  3. What is the difference to the Federal Government whether a property is flooded, burned, or destroyed by a hurricane or tornado? None. Those who live or do business on the outer banks of North Carolina, the Gulf of Florida or Scituate, MA are still there. All the residents who are forced to buy flood insurance living in flood plains are not covered? Those who carry homeowners insurance don’t know land movement and flooding is not a covered peril? The renters don’t know their personal stuff is not covered for flood or land movement perils? After 9/11, see the fine print regarding coverage for acts of terrorism. The problem is people want to live in places that have risks and hazards. Yet, they do not want to pay for property damage should that risk manifest into a loss of property. People cannot cope, plan, or protect themselves without running to the government for help and handouts. Life itself comes with many inherent risks. Knee-jerk reactions and more taxation won’t mitigate damages of any type when it comes to natural disasters or man-made disasters. When disasters happen, the government is guarnteed to make situations worse and take domain over properties and people. All by design. They take money and they make money colluding with their business partners (donors and supporters) to ensure any disaster profits them, not the property owners. The solution? Learn to deal with life as it comes as there are no guaranees of any sort of a smooth ride. By the way, chatter going around of lockdowns coming due to climate emergency and a new virus circulating. They are ready to unleash the next scare event, so this flood mitigation hyperbole will be backburnered shortly. The Truth is the financial system is the real peril lurking to wipe out more people than any flood damage.

  4. We live in a mountainous state that was developed when waterways were essential to commerce and transportation corridors follow these waterways. I’m not sure there is a “solution” besides doing what humans have done for thousands of years which is to take advantage of the flood plains (flat land, good soils, village centers, transportation corridors) and live with the consequences. Building in VT has to be done in flood plains whether we like it or not. Of course it doesn’t help that Act 250 leaves only those who can afford large parcels of land in the more pristine, mountainous areas.

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