The bad news is that the town may still take another hit from Tropical Storm Irene. Latent damage along the riverbank on South Main Street threatens several properties, and may even extend under the road to properties on the east side of the road.
South Main Street property owner Mary Jane Finnegan reported on the collapse of the retaining wall along the river bank on her property and the property belonging to Chris Cady. Last month, part of the cement and stone wall fell away. Since then, the rain-swollen river has scoured away more of the soil behind the damaged area. Finnegan said the problem might have been avoided had her husband’s warnings been heeded. After the flood, Finnegan said, her husband noticed that rocks that had been against the riverbank had been moved, creating a deep pool and directing the flow of water toward the bank. When he sounded the alarm, “People looked at him like he had three heads,” Finnegan said. “But now the wall is deteriorating and it appears to me that it’s encroaching on the town park.”
Finnegan said she was caught in an impossible situation with what is, for her, essentially two disasters from flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene. She was seeking assistance from the town. “I remortgaged in September,” she said, “and was told at the time that everything was structurally sound, so I rebuilt. To remortgage again I would have to pay at $10,000 penalty, and remortgaging would either put me in foreclosure or tax sale. Unless I can find more funding, I don’t know where to go.”
Finnegan said Brud Sanderson of Stevens & Associates, of Brattleboro, told her that the repairs could cost anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000. But she noted that the cost of repairs will go up as more of the wall collapses.
Town manager Scott Murphy said the town had “turned over every rock in the state” looking for funding to assist property owners with the repairs, with little luck. One possibility was the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program administered by the state. Vermont is slated to get $21 million in federal CDBG funds, but 80% is to be spent in two other counties. Murphy said, however, that state officials told him that it was “very likely” that Finnegan and Cady would be eligible for emergency funding under the program. “But we can’t wait for that,” Murphy said. “Their suggestion was that the town could front the money and they would pay us back. That’s a giant leap of faith, but it’s the best we got.”
Finnegan said another problem has been getting permission from the state to work in the river. She said Doug Furlon was able to get a temporary permit for emergency work, but a permit for repair work is harder to get. “They say they don’t want cement in the river,” Finnegan said. “Well, there’s going to be a heckuva lot more than cement in that river if my building and Chris Cady’s building fall into the river. And if that happens, my building might take Todd Gareiss’ building with it. Then you’ll lose South Main Street.”
Board member Susan Haughwout noted that, if the buildings collapse or are condemned for safety concerns, the town would lose eight affordable housing units. “In a perfect world, property owners pay the whole thing,” Haughwout said. “But in a disaster situation, we do what we have to do and hopefully the property owner can pay some, but not the whole boat.”
Downtown property owner Cliff Duncan, who has been calling for dredging or other action to clean up the river since the flood, said that the Agency of Natural Resources’ stream management policies were to blame for the situation. “This is no different than the 20 acres that Henry Wheeler has lost because of the ANR’s approach to stream management,” he said. “We need to actively manage this river downtown. I don’t know if we need to do it at 2 am, or whenever, but we need to get in that river and fix these problems before the damage gets worse.”
It was Duncan who noted that a low spot behind Meg Streeter’s realty building could be related to the damage along the riverbank. “If there’s a sinkhole behind Meg’s building, this could be going underneath all of South Main Street,” he said.
Rep. Ann Manwaring said that the problem shouldn’t be looked at as that of a single property owner, but as a multi-property effort. “I think money might be the least of our problems,” she said. “We’ve seen that there’s the ability to raise money in this state, and I think money for this is going to come from a lot of sources. This is a ‘save the town’ kind of thing. I don’t know if we need to take this to a task force level, but we need to save the whole thing. And I’d be willing to be involved in that.”
“We have to look at this as a community project,” agreed Haughwout.
The good news came from Wilmington Trails Committee Chair John Greene, who reported that the construction of a footbridge spanning the Deerfield River at the west end of the village should begin soon, and construction of the proposed Riverwalk should be completed by the end of the year. “We’re in the process of getting the engineering done for the bridge” he said. “They’ll drill test holes in the next week, if it stops raining, and Merrill Mundell and Ben Joyce have been working together, surveying what needs to be done along the river. Things are going to be happening very fast in the next few weeks.”
The bridge is being donated by Wilmington resident Barry Reardon, and Greene said Reardon would select a bridge design and permitting should begin within the next two weeks.
“The bridge will go from Cliff’s (Duncan’s Jug Barn) property to the land trust (Shafter House) property,” Green said.
Green said work would also begin on the Riverwalk, although he cautioned board members not to call it the “Riverwalk” when dealing with state officials. “They tell me that when we call it the ‘Riverwalk,’ all kinds of bells and whistles go off up there (in Montpelier),” Green said. “We need to call it the Village Trail or something.”
Committee member Gary Henry said the permit process for the bridge and the trail could be separated if one becomes more problematic. “I don’t think the bridge, by itself, requires an Act 250 permit,” Henry said. “If the walk requires an Act 250, we can split them.” Greene said he hoped the trail wouldn’t require an Act 250 permit, either.
When completed, the Riverwalk, or Village Trail, will connect to another trail running from the eastern end of the village to Lake Raponda. That trail is currently awaiting completion, but should be finished before the end of the year, Greene said. On the other side of the Village Trail Bridge, the path will connect with the Hoot, Toot & Whistle Trail, which Greene said would be completed after a wetlands study had been carried out. “That’s a tremendous marketing opportunity,” added Henry. “We’ll be able to advertise hiking trails from lake to lake.”
Green also noted that the Wilmington portion of the Valley Trail is also likely to be completed soon, and with a future footbridge over the Deerfield near John McLeod’s woodworking factory, hikers will eventually be able to walk from Dover to Harriman Reservoir or Lake Raponda using the network of trails.