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South Burlington, VT

Value Creation Blog

Some Thoughts On The Great Vermont Flood Of 2011

Posted by Josh Patrick

Waterbury FloodThis is a guest blog entry by Randy Rowland.  He is an avid bicycler as well and volunteers at the annual stage race in Vermont.  I thought his observations and actions about our recent flood in Vermont was both touching and on the money.  I’m honored to be able to re-print the email he sent out below.

Randy is the acting executive director of the Vermont Youth Orchestra.  He is a long-time friend and has been active in several parts of our community.  He is also an expert on ESOP’s.  He took his family business through the ESOP process and made a successful transition to non-family management.

Here is Randy’s email:

As I do on most Labor Day weekends, I helped the Green Mountain Bike Club put on their premier event of the season, the Green Mountain Stage Race.  I’ve been a member of this club since sometime in the ‘80’s, and enjoy driving an official car for the Mad River Road Race, and marshalling at the Burlington Criterium.

This Labor Day weekend has been no different on the cycling front, but in light of the devastation that hurricane Irene wrought in Vermont, I added another volunteer responsibility to the weekend.  After the road race finished at the top of Appalachian Gap, I drove to the Disaster Relief Center at the Masonic Hall in Waitsfield to see how I could help.

I parked in a dirt lot near the intersection of Rt. 100 and Bridge Street Near the Masonic Hall.  The parking lot was next to the Mad River, and the lot had the look of all the land that was anywhere near a stream or river in Central and Southern Vermont: everything was grey with the dried mud from where the river had jumped its banks.  At present, the river was high, muddy and flowing swiftly, but it seemed fairly serene as it passed under the Waitsfield covered bridge.

The bridge appeared intact, but it was closed, its integrity greatly compromised by waters that a week ago easily surpassed the height of the road surface and contained all manner of debris: trees, marshmallow hay bales, dead livestock, vehicles, appliances, you name it.

But there the Waitsfield Bridge stood, somehow spared the fate of the 140 year-old Lower Bartonsville Covered Bridge, many miles to the south.  The video that captured that bridge shifting, tipping, and finally collapsing into the raging river is both frightening and enthralling: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj5ZyIafegw&NR=1

As I made my way to the Disaster Relief Center, I passed by volunteers covered in the mud.  They were scraping debris out of the basement of an old building that housed several small businesses on the corner of Rt. 100 and Bridge Street.  I silently hoped hauling mud wasn’t the only type of volunteer job available.

The Disaster Center was packed with food for volunteers, and packed with volunteers coordinating other volunteers.  No one looked like a government official.  There was a big white board that listed several things to do.  After a brief discussion with a coordinator, I drove north on Rt. 100 to help a farmer get the river stone out of his field.  Farmers were hit hard by Irene’s rain and resulting flash floods: lost livestock, destroyed barns, and what crops were left standing were covered in mud that rendered them unfit for animal or human consumption.

Arriving at the field, I found about 20 other folks filling 5 gallon pails with smooth river stones that I found their way from the Mad River, which presently flowed 6 feet below the edge of the field, up onto the field of grass and corn.  I learned that where I was standing in the field had actually been 12 feet underwater during the peak of the flooding!  The landowner, Rick, explained that where I looked to the south and saw the rivers edge, there had been a 300 yard-long row of large trees that were now either on the other side of the field, or even further down the river somewhere.

We actually made pretty good progress on ridding the field of the larger stones.  A disc harrow would be destroyed trying to till these rocks.  Hopefully, the sandy grass, and the grey, bent corn I was standing next to would look a lot different next year.  During my time in the field, I ran into a family of five that I knew from skiing at Sugarbush, and Ted and Susan Laskaris, good friends who live just up Rt. 100.  Their farm, populated by a herd of Yaks (!) was relatively unscathed by Irene.

Dusty and dirty, we finally wrapped up our rock harvesting.  Driving home, I thought how fortunate my family was to live in the Champlain Valley, where it is relatively flat and the huge rains from Irene weren’t funneled in a fashion that turned tiny streams into mountain tsunamis.  I read in the Burlington Free Press that during Irene, the peak flow in the White River in West Hartford was 100,000 cubic feet per second.  That is 500 times the normal flow, and equivalent to the normal volume of the Mississippi River at St. Louis!

On Saturday, some folks from our church had been helping clean up in Moretown, the town north of Waitsfield.  Moretown sits on the Mad River as well, and was hugely damaged by the flooding.  Rt. 100B out of town is washed out, and the only way out of town is to the south.  Will Burhans, the Pastor at our church, spoke of the terror that one man felt as he stood in his home, watching cars, cows and hay bales race by/crash into his home during the flooding.

I deliberately drove home via Waterbury, because I knew that area had been hard hit.  1,600 state employees work there, and none of them can use their offices.  It was the Winooski River that flooded Waterbury.  It jumped its banks near the bridge at the east end of town, and proceeded to create a new channel right down Main St.  Virtually every home along Main St., until you got to the far western end, saw the water rise to somewhere in the first floor.  If you squint your eyes to blur your vision and look down the main drag, you might think it was right after a big snowstorm, but the snow banks you were imagining were actually 10-foot high piles of debris hauled out of the basements and first floors of all the homes.  The difference, of course, is that these piles would never melt, and were awaiting a bucket loader to come and pick them up.

The list of never-before imagined damage in Vermont caused by Irene goes on: The town of Wilmington completely cut off from the world by road washouts and the loss of several bridges.  The impossibility of travelling east-west in the lower half of the state.  The loss of 2 covered bridges and damage to/closure of 12 more.  But what I saw yesterday as well as heard on the news and from friends is that people have come to the aid of their neighbors.  I picked stones along side a woman from St. Johnsbury, whose town was largely spared any damage from the rains.  Also in attendance was a couple up from New York City for the long weekend.  Tourists were reported to be helping all over the Mad River Valley.

My work precludes me from helping mid-week, but I hope to be lending a hand in some fashion again next weekend.

With gratitude for our abundance,

Randy Rowland

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Topics: financial planning, Vermont Flood

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