WILMINGTON -- When Gov. Peter Shumlin visited town, he recalled a moment two years ago, when he was saying farewell to National Guard volunteers who had come to assist after Tropical Storm Irene.
"One of the guys from South Carolina said, ‘I’ve done these storms all over North America and what’s different in the two-and-a-half weeks I’ve spent in Vermont is that people in this state don’t wait for the government to come and help,’" the governor recalled. "’They start digging and everybody helps until the job is done.’ That’s the spirit of this great state. That’s why I’m so proud to be governor of this state."
On Aug. 28, Shumlin held a press conference in Wilmington at Memorial Hall to discuss the wide array of recovery efforts that have occurred in this part of Windham County. Wilmington had been one of the most severely damaged parts of the state.
The governor spoke of the extraordinary efforts within the community. He said the anniversary day should be a celebration of "the fact that we’ve rebuilt Vermont stronger, better and smarter than Irene found us."
Shumlin took time out to remember the six Vermonters who had died during the storm and that there were still struggling business owners and homeowners who had lost everything.
"I hope more than anything that we’ll never forget anything from Irene," he said. "All the good work we’ve done and all that lies ahead. We can’t give back to people the people that the storm took. These were people who lost their lives helping us to be protected and recovered."
One thing residents are well aware of, especially those who are involved in different boards and committees, are the empty storefronts in Wilmington. Shumlin made note of the hard work that community members are taking part in to ensure those buildings are utilized in the future.
He also spoke of the data since the storm, stating that 500 miles of road had been repaired, Route 9 was reopened in 28 days, 38 bridges were repaired and 1,000 culverts were replaced within the first three months.
Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold told the story of how overwhelming the damage of the storm had been. He said recovery efforts for his establishment Wahoo’s Eatery on Route 9 began with three friends.
"Three turned to five then five turned to 25 friends," he said. "I think they wanted us to do this for their primal need for normalcy."
In five days, Wahoo’s had opened again. The roads were cleared from flood debris. The first hamburger sold ended up coming with a $500 donation, Grinold said.
"On that day, we felt strong. Vermont strong," he continued. "We will be going forward with what I call 3.1 recovery and we need to remind ourselves what we can do when we work together."
A representative from FEMA stated that the Vermont field office had been open for two years now and it will continue to operate for a little longer. He said FEMA won’t be going anywhere until the work is done.
"From my perspective, maybe it’s taken a little longer than people wanted, but the end result will get people from Vermont back to where they were," he said.
Wilmington Selectboard Chairwoman Meg Streeter lost her building in the flood. She owns a real estate company that is located in the heart of the downtown village. Like many others, her business was rebuilt in the past two years.
"It’s not over," said Streeter. "Vermonters are mavericks."
She mentioned that the closure of Vermont Yankee would be yet another challenge for the state.
State Treasurer Beth Pearce described Vermonters as tough, resilient, hardworking and a little thrifty.
"We get things done in a very unique way. We don’t leave people behind. We work together, neighbor to neighbor, community to community, state to community in Vermont," she said. "That’s how things got done in Wilmington."
Pearce said if the spirit of the state could be bottled, she’d send a couple cases to Washington.
"We can’t bottle it but we can share it with others," she said. "No one stands alone in Vermont. We stand as one."
After the press conference, Dot’s Restaurant offered free chili and coffee on Main Street, outside of the building that will be reopening sometime next month. It had been destroyed as a result of the Deerfield Valley River flooding that occurred during Irene.
Members of the community enjoyed the refreshments as they looked at the river and made plans for the future, much like they did after food was delivered to the Twin Valley High School, which was being used as a shelter two years ago.