A number of years ago I served on the Citizens Advisory Group that was involved in exploring bypass options for Route 9 around Wilmington. One thing all people agreed was that there were no good options.
One longtime Wilmington resident advanced the idea suggesting we move the town not the road. A thorough and exhaustive study laid out how it could happen. National Public Radio aired a story including interviews from the now flood-ravaged Dot’s Restaurant. The study identified a quaint location for the relocation overlooking Lake Whitingham. This work was prepared with the input of credentialed public servants through exhaustive research. Entire towns have successfully been relocated in this country. But wrapping one’s mind around the feasibility of your own town being moved is easier said than done.
I, for one, was a doubter. But I hadn’t imagined the immediate and lasting effects of a flood on the level Wilmington has just experienced. Now I see it. We knew our past. The 1938 flood level in Wilmington is recorded on the outside wall of our town offices. It was a thing that fairy tales are made of…almost. Wilmington now has a new historic flood level surpassing the 1938 flood level. It’s not a question of whether another flood happens, but when. I doubt it will be another 63 years.
We are left to wonder what is to become of Wilmington? What actions can be taken as safeguard measures? Who will invest in this small community feeling confident that their business future has a reasonable security? Successfully running a business in Wilmington town center is in question. Investing in a Wilmington business now gives new meaning to the phrase “wash your money.”
Our selectboard recently commissioned a committee to look into ideas to mitigate impacts on our town with future floods of this magnitude. There was one condition attached to the charges to the committee. Discussing a potential town relocation was off the table. Ironically the committee advised the town to move their town offices, their police department, and their fire department out of harm’s way. Not up for discussion was airing the same option for people’s businesses. This town and its people have shown remarkable resiliency and spirit in dealing with this natural catastrophe. In the same vein, along with a how-to document, relocation is feasible.
In the aftermath of Vermont’s disaster, Wilmington has been identified by FEMA, along with Waterbury, as the two Vermont towns requiring unusual need and attention. There is unprecedented help available.
I am now a firm believer and feel relocation is the one (and only) direction we can choose that elevates a town’s stature rather then watch it slowly erode into a town that is a ghost of what it was once. Wilmington is in limbo. Change is on our doorstep one way or another. Shall we hang onto a deteriorating town or pursue a rebirth of unprecedented scope? I enthusiastically encourage everyone to go to the Wilmington town website to get a PDF of the study or contact Mary Town at the town offices for a copy to be emailed. The thoughtfulness, the thoroughness, and the feasibility of this study will surprise you.
Perhaps this is not “fools gold” but the real deal. We have the opportunity to choose a safely located town center that comes along with national and international attention placing Wilmington as a lasting, unique destination. It mitigates our traffic woes aiding access to West Dover businesses.
I respectfully am asking our town selectboard to formally include relocation in its list of options. We are fortunate indeed to have a study in place that answers the detailed questions surrounding the nuances of such a move.
One factor cannot be ignored, if there was ever a time when this could happen it is now and deserves to be earnestly reviewed.