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Vt. Irene Report: Build Longer Bridges, Move Homes

Tue February 14, 2012 - Northeast Edition

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) Vermont needs to build longer bridges to make more room for swollen rivers and encourage the relocation of housing at risk of flooding, according to a report released Jan. 6 on the state’s recovery from the remnants of Hurricane Irene.

Outgoing chief recovery officer Neale Lunderville said much work remains in putting Vermont back together after the storm and flooding it triggered in late August that killed six people and destroyed hundreds of miles of roads and 200 bridges.

“There are still so many things we have to do all across the state ... to make our state stronger for the future,” said Lunderville, who is returning to the private sector and being replaced by Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter.

The 71-page report contained six sections covering aid to those affected by the storm, how to ensure recovery and resilience against future disasters, helping cities and towns recover, making sure the state’s roads, bridges and rail system are brought back to good shape, managing the environmental effects of the flooding and preparing for future disasters.

“All recovery is local, but a partnership between Vermont and our local communities will ensure success as we rebuild,” said Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin.

State officials mixed thanks and praise for recovery work with talk of lessons learned. More than 500 mi. of state roads were damaged with the last of them — a section of Route 107 in Stockbridge and Bethel — being reopened to traffic just recently.

Among the shortcomings during and after the storm was Vermont’s spotty cellphone coverage, the report said.

“Many Vermont towns lack adequate cellular coverage to facilitate communications when landlines are down,” it said. “While some communities relied on modern technology and Internet communications to reach their citizens, our most vulnerable populations may not always have access to this type of service.”

Another lesson learned: Better plans need to be made for how to make the best use of volunteers after a disaster.

“Having a place where volunteers, whether affiliated [with a group] or spontaneous, can go for information is critical to a successful response,” the report said.

It said the Vermont Emergency Management, the state agency that coordinates disaster response, will hold a workshop in February on how to manage volunteers. A special council should be formed to coordinate the volunteer efforts that poured forth from Vermont’s colleges and universities, the report said.

The report included a section written by Rich Tetreault, chief engineer with the state Agency of Transportation, who said Vermont should look at building longer bridges with their supports farther from the edges of rivers to accommodate flood waters.

“Communities must also reassess their land-use patterns and ask such questions as: how close to the water is too close to build?” Tetreault wrote.

The report also chronicled a breakdown in regulation of river alterations, as many landowners and towns went digging for gravel in stream beds and tried to shore up riverbanks without the usual regulatory review from a state environmental agency, which was flooded out of its offices in Waterbury and overwhelmed with requests for assistance.

“As a result, the public often was not informed of what work was authorized, landowners were sometimes confused regarding the nature of what work they could conduct, and in other cases people either ignored the requirement to get in-stream [work] authorization or acted beyond the scope of the authorization given,” it said.

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