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After Flood Resiliency Study, Towns Get Recommendations And Assistance

Gov. Peter Shumlin and a crowd survey flood damage in Williamstown July 9, 2013. The Vermont Economic Resiliency Initiative released a final report on the economic impacts of flood damage.

The Vermont Economic Resiliency Initiative has released their final report. Over the last two years, multiple agencies have been working together to look at how individual towns can think about the economic impacts of flood damage, and the value of mitigating it.

Five pilot communities were studied and were given both recommendations and assistance for policy changes, transportation infrastructure, property buy-outs and other strategies to reduce the impact flooding.

Vermont Edition spoke to Noelle MacKay, commissioner of Housing and Community Development, about how the final report of the Vermont Economic Resiliency Initiative will be utilized in the future.

On how the study worked

The five pilot towns in the project were Barre City and Town, Brandon, Brattleboro, Enosburg Village and Town and Woodstock.

"We looked across the state and we provided every community with a ranking of economic activity, infrastructure vulnerability and flooding," says MacKay.

The initial pool of 251 towns was first narrowed down to 32 communities, and then to five towns of varying scale and size. "We wanted to have an agricultural community. We wanted to have a recreational community and some downtowns."

The study then worked intimately with these towns to devise solutions. Community forums were held to address the specific needs of the town based on its history with flooding. River scientists and engineers then surveyed the town's waterways to formulate specific recommendations based on past flood patterns and damage.

Solutions proposed by these scientists were brought back to the table for the community to discuss. "We went back to the community and said, 'Did we get it right? And which ones would you suggest that the community works with first?'" says MacKay.

On the study's implementation

Across the varying geography and community attributes, all five towns shared similar concerns: "Flood proofing buildings, upgrading infrastructure, protecting flood plains or restoring flood plains and looking at public safety and buy-outs," said MacKay.

Finding funding for these projects through a network of sister agencies, philanthropic organizations, grant money and nonprofits is essential to the implementation of such projects. "We had a big slug of money after Irene for that, but ongoing we might not," says MacKay, who adds that they have to "get creative" with the funding side.

"The other thing we're looking at in the Institute for Sustainable Communities is a resilience network that we're going to bring together in some of these issues to find more flexible funding sources that can help with the match," says MacKay. "Because even if we pay for 75 percent, that 25 percent to do a buyout is a lot of money. So I think it is money, but it's flexible money, that we need."

Reflecting back four years, MacKay does not believe Vermont is in the same place it was after Hurricane Irene. "I think we are better prepared," says MacKay. "And we know where our vulnerabilities are."

Patti is an integral part of VPR's news effort and part of the team that created Vermont Edition. As executive producer, Patti supervises the team that puts Vermont Edition on the air every day, working with producers to select and research show ideas, select guests and develop the sound and tone of the program.
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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