Flood cleanup estimates over $1.5 million; FEMA tours damage

Graham Kennedy of the Chester Highway Department points to the road and washed out culvert off Potash Brook Road. Gov. Shumlin stands in the middle, with town manager David Pisha and Brian Searles of the state Highway Department. All photos by Shawn Cunningham

Graham Kennedy of the Chester Highway Department points to the road and washed out culvert off Potash Brook Road. Gov. Shumlin stands in the middle, with town manager David Pisha and Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles. Click photo to launch gallery. All photos by Shawn Cunningham

By Cynthia Prairie
©The Chester Telegraph – 2014

Preliminary figures indicate that the Chester-Andover-Windham area suffered between $1.5 million and $1.8 million in damage from the torrential rain storm and subsequent flooding of Monday, July 28. These figures also include $100,000 in damage to both Reading and Weathersfield.

On Tuesday morning, Aug. 5, representatives from FEMA, the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security were expected in Chester to meet local officials and then begin fanning out to inspect the damaged areas, taking an account of the repairs that have been made thus far.

According to the state, to qualify for FEMA help, it must show at least $1 million in total public infrastructure damage.  Counties, the state said, must show damage exceeding $3.50 per capita, or about $198,345 for Windsor County and $155,796 for Windham County.

Gov. Shumlin looks over the damage on Kingsbury Road, where the Defoe house foundation was left exposed from high waters.

Gov. Shumlin looks over the damage on Kingsbury Road, where the Defoe house foundation was left exposed from high waters.

On Monday, Aug. 4, Tom Kennedy of the  Southern Windsor County Regional Development Corp. said that the estimated damage to Chester is between $600,000 and $800,000; the estimated damage to Andover is between $600,000 and $700,000; Windham is around $200,000 and Weatherfield and Reading each suffered around $50,000 in damage.

There are a number of roads that “need to be upgraded with bigger culverts or box culverts or bridges.”

Tom Kennedy
SWCRPC

He added that his organization is checking on seven houses in two towns  with water damage and continuing erosion, where the “buffer between the house and the stream is less and less.” He added that there are a number of roads that “need to be upgraded with bigger culverts or box culverts or bridges.” A box culvert is a large, rectangular concrete structure that under the right circumstances can be used as a bridge base.

Rich Defoe, whose son owns Riverhaus, speaks with Gov. Peter Shumlin, right.

Rich Defoe, whose son owns Riverhaus, speaks with Gov. Peter Shumlin, right.

State Rep. Leigh Dakin, who lives in Chester and toured the damaged area with Kennedy, Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Transportation Brian Searles last Wednesday, called the recovery and future remedies, “a costly process.” During the tour, she said, “I certainly understand the reasoning of Fish & Wildlife (not wanting trees to be removed from fish habitat). But maybe this is a wake-up call to see if we should be a bit more creative.”

She added that since Irene devastated the state three years ago, there have been eight to 12 similar incidents.

Kennedy said, “In the past we thought we could control rivers. But we know now we need to allow rivers to jump their banks and allow flood plains to work.” The question, he said, is “how do we accommodate development, natural resources and changes in rain patterns without having a lot of infrastructure damage?”

Andover roads and culverts

On Friday, Kevin Baker, of the Andover highway crew, said live trees falling into the rivers weren’t the problem in his region.  “I can’t think of anywhere we had damage where a stream was plugged up because of trees.” In the past, he said, “We got a permit to fix areas that trees tipped in.” Foresters and state environmentalists, he said, “don’t like cutting trees by a brook because it’s shade for trout.”

Fenton Road resident Jan Rounds holds the sign she made inviting Gov. Shumlin, right, to visit her damaged yard.

Fenton Road resident Jan Rounds holds the sign she made inviting Gov. Shumlin, right, to visit her damaged yard.

“There was some dead wood (in the streams) on Middletown Road.”

In Andover, most culverts had already been upsized — to 18 inches and up — and may need to be upsized again. “We could want to go to 2 feet or bigger.”

Kevin Baker
Andover highway crew

Baker mentioned Howard Hill and Simmonds roads as examples of culverts that were overwhelmed with debris and a lot of water. Most culverts, he said, had already been upsized — to 18 inches and up — and may need to be upsized again. “We could want to go to 2 feet or bigger.” Andover may have to add some other culverts, he said, adding, “We’ll have to wait and see what FEMA says.”

As for the steep Howard Hill Road, which cascades onto Route 11 from Tater Hill Golf Course, Baker said it will stay unrepaired — and one lane — until FEMA comes by, sometime this week. Crews also stopped work on Stigers and Simmonds road after making them passable so that FEMA can see the damage.

Baker also added, “We had a lot of roads where nothing went wrong.”

Gov. Shumlin can be seen through the passenger's seat window speaking with driver Dennis Rounds as he heads out on an errand.

Gov. Shumlin can be seen through the passenger’s seat window speaking with driver Dennis Rounds as he heads out on an errand.

Gov. Shumlin tours area

Shumlin’s tour  last Wednesday included Kingsbury Road, where the Potash Brook and the middle branch of the Williams River meet. There Rich Defoe was helping his son Dan repair  Dan’s home. It’s concrete basement sat exposed after land was eaten away by the waters and damaged the first-floor floors. Defoe said his son, who bought the home following Tropical Storm Irene,  didn’t have flood insurance. “What we thought was a 100-year storm is now a four-year storm,” said Defoe.

Across Route 11, on Fenton Road, Jan Rounds was holding a sign inviting Shumlin to visit her home, which sits on Potash Brook. This was “worse than Irene,” she said. The waters rose so fast, she said, “we didn’t have a chance to move anything,” including her 2007 Mustang and a hot tub. While the waters didn’t hit the Rounds’ home, it did damage the garage, blowing out one of the sides.

Shumlin said residents should not rebuild in areas that will get hit again and urged those affected to take advantage of the FEMA buyout program. “Climate change is creating these challenges,” he said.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I can say, as far as Potash Brook Rd. is concerned, we were and are loaded with downed trees in the river bed. The town has done an incredible job getting things done on our road and still there is lots more to do. Hoping some how we can get funds to clean out the downed trees that clog up the culverts and rivers and increase the future potential for damage. Prevention matters too!

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    The Sunoco was flooded. But the Country Girl was fine. A few other homes and outbuildings were damaged as well. But we lost no lives. We’ve got pictures of the Sunoco flooding, which is in last week’s story. Thanks for asking. If anyone has heard any different, please let us know!

  3. Charlie Campo says:

    Were Chester businesses damaged in the flooding? I am particularly concerned for the Country Girl Diner, which is a favorite of ours.