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After FEMA Buyouts, Towns Envision Uses For Land

Vermont cities and towns have purchased 30 properties damaged in Tropical Storm Irene with FEMA funds and another 67 buyouts are in the pipeline. FEMA requires buildings get torn down and no permanent structures are built.

Some communities are starting to discuss how they'll use the land once they own it.

But what’s next after a buy-out isn’t the first thing residents in flood-damaged areas are saying, especially when they still see houses hanging over riverbanks, surrounded by debris.

Rockingham’s Municipal Manager Chip Stearns said a lot of people are asking “ ‘When are we doing something about those properties? It has been two years!’ ”

Stearns said people are anxious to see damaged properties on the Saxtons River purchased and cleaned up. He says ideas are percolating about the three acres that’ll open up.

“If someone wanted to drive down in there and park and fish they’d have the ability to have river access,” said Stearns. “And for some people, who drive by with a picnic basket and out-of-state plates they may say, ‘Hey, lets go have a picnic down there!’”

In Readsboro the buy-out includes three homes on the Deerfield River.  Town Administrator Mark Shea said one idea is to build a bench next to a display of photographs of the houses and the families who lived there, along with a plaque about the good that came out of the flood.

“Let’s not forget that the community stood  together,” said Shea. “And helped out other community members.”

Upriver, Wilmington has closed on one house. And it’s about to close on a barn on four acres. That’s where Frank Sprague ran a welding and stone mason business before floodwaters destroyed everything. His vision for the future? A path that runs across a bridge over the Deerfield River that connects to an existing trail system.

“This was a really peaceful place to work,” recalled Sprague. “The river was there. The bald eagle came by almost every day. So it was kind of cool. I guess once it’s gone it’ll be O.K. Right now it’s not.”

In Londonderry some residents want to use the property their town is acquiring to prevent that type of loss. Resident George Mora said it may be possible to engineer the land to create a kind of catch basin for floodwaters.

“It has the potential to give anyone in town a sense of power in the face of destruction,” said Mora, “to think that there may be something we can actually do to combat it.”

Other ideas in Londonderry include beautifying the town. The buyouts may be a way to create something positive out of so much loss.

Nancy Cohen covers southern Vermont's recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. Her work is supported by the VPR Journalism Fund.
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