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Greene: Making Progress

Lisa Sullivan, the owner of Bartleby’s Books, in Wilmington, is pretty upbeat about the progress both her store and the village have made since Tropical Storm Irene’s floodwaters tore through town two years ago.

She keeps using the word normal in describing the town’s recovery. Regulars have begun frequenting the bookstore’s events again. More than fifteen retailers are back in business, along with four restaurants. But really, the progress that has come of months of work and planning is more than normal; it’s amazing.

Wilmington Fund VT, a 501C3 which was founded by second home owners to save the village, has spawned a sub committee called Wilmington Works. It’s sponsoring a lively series of weekly events at Riverbank Park. Before Wilmington Works came into being, Sullivan says, individual business people worked on revitalizing, but it was moving in concert that has had the real impact.

She is sanguine that the consortium now in place will improve - and not simply replace - Wilmington’s downtown. She notes that the flood brought home to people what it means to have local businesses, and they want them in their community. “You can come into a store and have a conversation with other members of the community. It’s critical to a quality of life that just can’t be duplicated by online shopping,” she says. Having almost lost it for good, people now cherish and support that sense of community.

For Vera Gervais, whose Wardsboro home was destroyed by the flood, progress has been steady but slow. Every day she has to drive by her old house. She tries not to look, but somehow she always does. Every few months she returns to the site, wearing a mask against the mold and mildew, to see if there isn’t anything more from her old life that can still be salvaged. She was lucky a few weeks back, when, on top of a shelf, she found a box of her papers from college. But she also discovered that someone had broken in and stolen the copper piping.

Gervais is quick to voice her gratitude for help from the Stratton Foundation, FEMA, an SBA loan and the flood insurance they carried. Using those monies, the family could buy another house without waiting for the buy-back to go through. The appraiser is coming soon to the old house, which is the next step in the town’s buy-back program.

She feels for those dependent on just the town buy-backs to rebuild or relocate. She anticipates some closure when the house is finally torn down and replaced by a spillway, or perhaps a little park. But she says it still makes her sad. The flood turned normal planning on its head. She had kept her kids’ swing set for when grandchildren came along, but of course that’s gone now.

The Gervais family had 14 more years on their mortgage. Now they’ve gratefully started over again, with a 30 year mortgage. By the time they pay the new one off, they will be in their eighties.

Stephanie Greene is a free-lance writer now living with her husband and sons on the family farm in Windham County.
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