Vermont city among towns seeking to reduce flood damage

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MONTPELIER >> In the nine years Thom Lauzon has been mayor of Barre, the residential area along the Gunners Brook has flooded four times and now the city is preparing to be ready the next time the water rises, a sure thing in an era of more intense storms.

The city is working on a plan to buy and demolish three homes that have been empty since a July flood, dig out an area where the water can go and install grates further upstream to trap debris, directing future flood waters into empty areas.

And while the city hopes to get federal grants to pay for about half of the project, estimated at about $1 million, if their applications are rejected, Lauzon hopes city residents will still opt for flood control.

"We may not be able to do as much, but I am not going to use not getting a grant for an excuse to do nothing," Lauzon said.

More than four years after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene did hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to communities across Vermont and made flood resiliency a watchword of local planning, many communities are moving forward with plans to reduce damage from future floods.

Communities are doing everything from demolishing some homes and buildings in flood zones, installing electrical panels and heating systems above flood level to planning large flood plain restoration projects. There are also numerous projects to increase the size of culverts that allow flood waters to flow freely beneath roadways.

Friday was the state's deadline for Barre and other communities to apply for the federal grants made available due to an ice storm last December, but there isn't enough money to fund all the projects, said Ben Rose, the state's mitigation and recovery chief.

"Now that we're running out of Irene money and we've still got all these great mitigation projects coming down the pike from towns, we have to look at other federal programs available and compete," Rose said.

Barre hopes to get $500,000 in federal grants, administered by the state, to buy and remove the three homes. If approved by the City Council and voters, the rest of the money would come from local taxes through a fund used to maintain city streets.

Lauzon said the project he is pushing wouldn't solve all future flooding problems. It would be more effective in dealing with floods that are the result of debris backing up flowing water — like the most recent flooding in the area last July — than those resulting from huge amounts of rainfall.

"A million dollars to put the watershed back the way it was I think is a good investment," he said. "Having seen firsthand, because of the length of time I've served, the amount of damage and disaster relief that has gone into that area in the last 10 years, it's probably over a million."


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