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Londonderry Debates Flood Damage Prevention

Towns in Vermont are taking down flood-damaged properties through a FEMA-funded program. Some want to put parks or access to a river where the buildings once stood.

In Londonderry, a public meeting will be held Thursday night to discuss ideas that might reduce future flooding, including taking down a much-loved dam.

Below the Williams Dam, stone benches invite people to sit and drink in the power of the water.

Walking along the riverbank, Londonderry resident George Mora said “We’re coming up on the waterfall and the dam. And then the millpond is above that. So this is kind of where the West River starts to come into Londonderry.”

The West River has flooded the downtown at least four times. During Tropical Storm Irene the river severely damaged two stores that sit above the dam.

This summer George Mora and other residents took a six-day workshop led by the Center for Creative Solutions at Marlboro College and the Windham Regional Commission. The participants developed ideas about what could be done after the two buildings are torn down.

Mora started off thinking about building sidewalks, a gazebo or maybe parking.

“Now I’m thinking much bigger picture,” said Mora. “Like safety and resiliency improvements, in terms of flooding”

The ideas that came out of the workshop include re-shaping the land so that it captures floodwaters and removing or partially removing a stone dam that dates back to 1867.

Mora said she’s conflicted about taking the dam down, but supports the idea

“If removing it could have a significant impact for protecting the town from flooding in the future,
Mora said, “Then I feel like we have a responsibility to do whatever we can.”

Down the road, inside Mike and Tammy’s Market customers are lining up for lunch, including Chris Laselle who has lived close to the dam his whole life, 64 years.

“It’s a great sound,” Laselle said. “It’s peaceful!”

Laselle said there’s no reason to take the dam down.

“The only houses it damages in the flood are the ones they’re taking down. So once the houses are gone, the dam won’t bother anyone anymore.”

Outside the market, carpenter Scott Rawson says the millpond created by the dam is beautiful. He says the town should “keep the dam because of the pond”

Steve Twitchell, another life-long Londonderry resident agrees, but he says, despite its beauty, he’d give up the millpond.

“The pain I see my friends go through when their properties get damaged,” recalled Twitchell,  “...if taking the dam down helps that in the future, I’d be more for that.” 

The dam sits underneath a bridge. Todd Menees, a river engineer, with the Agency of Natural Resources, said without the dam there’d be less flooding.

“I can just see from here,” said Menees as he stood below the dam, “that if the dam is taken out the area underneath the bridge is going to be doubled in size for that much more flood water to come through.”

Menees said the state would support removing the dam, but it’s the town’s decision. 

Many in Londonderry say they have a lot to learn about what should be done, if anything, after the buildings come down.

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