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How Vermont's Preparing To Weather The Next Big Flood

Waterbury, seen here in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, was one of the towns that sustained severe flood damage from the storm.
Toby Talbot
AP file
Waterbury, seen here in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, was one of the towns that sustained severe flood damage from the storm.

Eight years ago, Vermont was waylaid by Tropical Storm Irene, causing intense flooding around the state. For those who suffered loss of home and property, it's an event they'll never forget. We look at what's been done to prepare for future flooding in the state.

We'll hear from Rita Egan, a media relations specialist for Federal Emergency Management Agency, about who might need flood insurance and what it covers. You can find more information about flood insurance at

Also joining the discussion is Ned Swanberg, a regional floodplain manager forVermont's Department of Environmental Conservation, and Lauren Oates, state hazard mitigation officer for Vermont Emergency Management, about what steps the state has taken to mitigate the effects of future flood events.

Listen to the podcast audio above; find few excerpts from the program below:

Flood Insurance

FEMA media relations specialist Rita Egan encourages everyone to think about flood insurance.

“Never say never, especially to Mother Nature,” she said. “If it rains at your house, you should probably look at it.”

Flood insurance generally covers “overland flooding,” when lakes and rivers are very high, or when the ground is oversaturated.

Egan pointed out that only about 20% of people who should have flood insurance, do; the other 80% are left waiting for a federal disaster declaration, and even after that, the funds don’t necessarily pay for all damages.

The people who were impacted by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, for example, received an individual grant averaging $5,000 and $6,000. But, Egan said, “a national average to repair your home when you have about one inch of damages, one inch of water in your home, is about $25,000 to $26,000.”’

About 90% of Vermont towns are participants in theNational Flood Insurance Program. The other 10% leave residents to buy flood insurance in the open market, which tends to be more expensive.

For those municipalities that do participate, there are ways to become part of a community rating system and receive flood insurance premium discounts.

“They’re actually working to keep the damages from increasing or to possibly divert them away from people and property,” Egan said.

So far, seven municipalities across the country have completed mitigation projects and reached a 45% discount on flood insurance premiums.

“That’s where you get into the patience, persistence and payroll, and the community has to be willing to put in all three,” Egan said.

State-Level Mitigation

Vermont is taking steps to mitigate future flood events, actively trying to prevent damage not only to communities but to the function of floodplains and river corridors.

“The types of projects we’ll work on is buyouts,” said Lauren Oates, the state hazard mitigation officer for Vermont Emergency Management. “We go in, and towns are purchasing homes that are in floodplains and river corridors and removing them. … We do structural elevation, large-scale projects like floodplain restoration, all aimed to reduce the vulnerability of that jurisdiction to future flood events.”

Ned Swanberg, a regional floodplain manager for Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation, focuses on working with municipalities on proposals for development near river corridors and floodplains.

“Since Tropical Storm Irene, about 91 communities have adopted standards of a higher value in terms of trying to avoid new development and losses,” Swanberg said.

He pointed out that maintaining functioning river corridors leaves “elbow room” for rivers to manage energy, sediment and slowly adjust to changes.

“We’re trying to accommodate and help to identify that space needed by the channel over time,” Swanberg said. “So as we develop roads and buildings and things we love, we can stay a little bit out of the way of that function.”

Broadcast live on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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