“We do things different than the rest of the world,” said Shumlin. “We’re a place that, when tragedy strikes, we turn to those who are friends and those who are strangers and we say ‘How can I help?’”
Gov. Shumlin began by saying that while the anniversary of Irene was a day for celebrating how far we’ve come as a state and as a network of communities, it’s also a reminder of the work left to finish. “There’s a lot of people, some sitting in this hall, who still don’t have back what they lost and are still struggling,” said Shumlin. “We’re still finding that running a business downtown is harder then it was before, and we’re still finding that for some people to get their buyout completed, the words all make sense but the check is not there yet.”
Shumlin also took a moment to remember the six Vermonters who lost their lives in the storm, including 20-year-old Ivana Taseva, who was killed when she was swept into the raging Deerfield River in Wilmington. While there are still troubles ranging from workers’ compensation rates to empty buildings downtown, Shumlin reminded the full house at Memorial Hall that parents lost their children in the storm, and that is something that must not be forgotten.
Another part of Shumlin’s message to Wilmington was that while at times it felt like a snail’s pace, the state achieved a lot in a short amount of time. This includes the replacement of 1,000 culverts in three months, countless houses built stronger and smarter, and 38 bridges in two years. “It’s a testament of determination, creativity, and hard work,” said Shumlin. “It’s the extraordinary story of Vermont’s determination, grit, pain, tears, loss, but most important, a story of how you stick together as a community and do it right.”
Memorial Hall served as a fitting location for the governor’s visit. It stands as a prime example of a structure that underwent serious damage and continuing reconstruction. Paul Ford, a local FEMA representative, told the audience that while he felt the recovery process was “rounding third base and heading home,” his agency would not leave until the work is done.
Local business owners Lisa Sullivan of Bartleby’s Books, Adam Grinold, of Wahoo’s, and Meg Streeter, of Meg Streeter Reality, all gave their perspective of the day after Irene. Streeter, also Wilmington’s selectboard chair, spoke about the four feet of mud in her office, while Sullivan noted that the day after the flood was a tough day, but there was always another day to follow. Grinold, also executive director of the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce, described the 250-foot-long trench in his driveway at Wahoo’s and how one friend helping to pick up sticks turned into 25 friends stopping by, some with heavy machinery. Grinold said that these folks not only helped him clean up, they inspired him to reopen.
Sullivan spoke about the efforts of Wilmington Works, the town’s downtown designation, which serves the mission of building, improving, and supporting a vital downtown. “I wish I could say the economy has fully recovered,” said Sullivan, “but there’s still a lot of work to do. Many businesses reopened, and new businesses have opened, but we still have too many empty buildings in town, and that is the goal of our long-term recovery.”
Grinold also noted that communication with state and local leadership is strong and keeps the sense of urgency alive locally.
State Treasurer Beth Pierce joined Shumlin on his Irene road trip, and explained that Vermont was better prepared for the storm through its natural ability to be thrifty. “Unlike some folks affected by Hurricane Sandy, we had money in a rainy day fund set aside to reach out and advance money to towns,” said Pierce. “We were better prepared because of good thrift. This is how things get done in Vermont, and in Wilmington, and if you could bottle that spirit I’d send a couple cases down to Washington.”
Sen. Bob Hartwell was on hand, and described his surprise seeing how organized the town’s response was to such devastation. As Hartwell delivered food to the high school, he said it looked almost routine how the people of the town came out to help. “All the problems of the world, from violence to financial crisis, don’t stop us from continuing to exercise our spirit.”
Rep. Ann Manwaring mentioned that Halifax had just reopened their last bridge damaged by the flood, and spoke about the $2 million accumulated from the private efforts of organizations like the Wilmington Fund VT, the Deerfield River Valley Human Web, Twice Blessed, and the Wilmington Flood Relief Fund. Manwaring also took a moment to acknowledge the Rebuild Dot’s fund. “These guys have been through ups and downs not unlike many businesses in the valley but they had a little bigger challenge to meet. But we’re all looking forward to that first McDots.”
While Gov. Shumlin spent the day crisscrossing the state, he was coincidentally able to come to Wilmington at noon, the perfect time to grab a bowl of Dot’s chili (which he has called the “best in the world”). John and Patty Reagan set up a tent on the Crafts Inn lawn, across from the new structure they intend to open next month.
Shumlin also took a gander across the street to check out the interior of the structure, located on the footprint of the old Dot’s restaurant, and this time built with a load of resiliency. Just like Vermont.