Brandon hosts Gov. Scott at 10th anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene


Photos by Steve James

BRANDON – On the 10th anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, Brandon served as the symbolic poster child for towns from all across Vermont that suffered immense flood damage during that storm, as Gov. Phil Scott held a press conference there last Wednesday, Aug. 25, to herald the progress made since destruction from the storm wreaked havoc throughout the state.

“This is a somber anniversary as we reflect on the damage done, lost homes, and worst of all, the seven people who died during and in the immediate aftermath of the storm,” Governor Scott said to a crowd of several dozen, television cameras and a bevy of reporters. “At the same time, we all saw that Irene brought out the best in Vermonters, with countless acts of courage and kindness shown to friends, neighbors, and strangers. What’s more, politics took a back seat to progress and after 10 years of hard work, Vermont is stronger than we were before.”

Scott and members of his administration met with Brandon Town Manager David Atherton and other local officials to recognize the 10-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene (which was Saturday, August 28) and highlight Vermont’s recovery from the storm.

Brandon, in particular, took the bull by the horns and spearheaded a complex and ambitious project to completely overhaul Route 7 through its downtown (later to be called Segment 6), manage the project on its own (from which it has earned high marks), and orchestrate a revitalized downtown environment that is not only attracting new business but also helping to prevent future flood damage.

“We have a lot to be proud of for what the town has accomplished in the aftermath of Irene,” said Atherton after the event. “From working with the state to plan on how to avoid future flood damage, to combining that with a complete overhaul of the town’s aging infrastructure and burying it all the utilities underground to make the downtown more attractive, we’ve been able to transform the downtown into a vibrant civic center.”

Gov. Scott and other members of his administration noted that Brandon was one example of a town that was impacted by Irene and has taken advantage of federal dollars earmarked to mitigate the impact of future storms and come out better and stronger.

 A media tour through town highlighted measures like better drainage through larger and more efficient culverts in its downtown, the purchase and removal of structures in areas of repetitive damage, and altered floodplains to better divert waters away from structures and public infrastructure.

“Breaking the cycle of disaster will only happen with time and investment in hazard mitigation projects that substantially improve our infrastructure resilience,” Vermont Emergency Management Director Erica Bornemann said during the event. “The only way to do that is to enhance floodplain storage, harden and improve infrastructure such as roads, bridges and critical buildings, and many other measures that can be paid for through the federal and state Hazard Mitigation Grant programs.”

During his speech, the governor also highlighted work done by local, state, and federal responders during Irene that helped avoid further loss of life and begin rebuilding Vermont’s infrastructure.

“During the storm Search and Rescue teams performed over 150 rescues from floodwaters; local responders also helped those in danger; private contractors as well as state crews were on the ground making roads passable as soon as floodwaters subsided, and the list goes on – this was an all-hands-on-deck response,” Scott said.

GOVERNOR SOCTT TOURS Brandon with Town Manager Dave Atherton and other town and state officials.

Administration officials recalled that in the aftermath of the flood, the Agency of Transportation, private contractors and local road crews began emergency road repairs almost immediately, and eventually repaired more than 500 miles of Vermont roads. These efforts earned national recognition as the work on Route 4 was heralded by national media for the speed in which crews made the road passable.

“Entire sections of road were completely gone, and bridges were impassible, or all gone,” said Transportation Secretary Joe Flynn, who led AOT’s Irene recovery efforts in southern Vermont. “I saw a call-to-action to repair and recover such that I had never seen before. Vermonters rallied across the state. More than 700 VTrans employees were assigned to the response and almost 100 relocated for months. What we witnessed that day, and in the days, weeks and months to follow, was truly remarkable in both the destructive force from Irene and the force of will in Vermont to respond and recover.”

Borneman noted that it remained important for every town to develop plans to make sure basic water supplies and shelter is at the ready in the event of future emergencies. “It takes a village to increase resilience,” she said, adding “I know we’re stronger because of Irene, but we can’t let up now.”

Nor is Brandon about to.

Atherton noted that the town is continuing to pursue flood mitigation measures on Newton Road and looking ahead to other projects he can tackle to be better prepared and avoid substantial losses.

“We’ve become the poster child of hazard mitigation,” Atherton said, “and in the process we’ve forged some strong relationships with the state that will continue to serve us well.”

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