The entire town government and a host of volunteers swung into action, setting up a shelter, distributing food and water, inspecting and documenting damage. The road crew performed miracles, quickly reestablishing at least a few viable routes in and out of town. In what became known locally as the “blue plate special,” volunteers marked those routes with colored paper plates. Need to get to Greenfield? Follow the green plates. Whitingham? White plates. Blue plates led to Brattleboro.
Green River Road, a major route to and from Brattleboro, was so extensively damaged that it remained closed until the end of November and could not be paved until this summer. Stowe Mountain Road was largely destroyed. Other damaged roads included Amidon Road, Brook Road, Collins Road, Deer Park Road, Fowler Road, Hanson Road, Hatch School Road, Jacksonville Stage Road, Moss Hollow Road, Pennel Hill Road, Phillips Hill Road, Pike Road, Reed Hill Road, Stark Mountain Road, and Thomas Hill Road. By mid-September, most of those roads had been made passable.
Huge problems remained. Residents of Deer Park Road lost access to Green River Road. With no bridge at that point, they had to take long back road detours to get anywhere. Household budgets were strained to breaking by the additional expense. Trips to the emergency room at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital took 20-30 minutes longer than usual, prompting some residents to get themselves to the hospital rather than risk even longer delays waiting for the EMS. It was not until months after the storm that the town was able to get a reasonably affordable temporary bridge set up at that site, saving residents from being truly stranded during mud season.
An early estimate of the damage indicated that more than 160,000 cubic yards of gravel would be needed to repair the roads, with Green River Road alone needing more than 63,000 cubic yards. The town’s stockpile of gravel, expected to last two to three years, was long gone before the end of the year, necessitating massive new purchases.
The town had to open a line of credit to keep recovery work going; for some time, expenditures averaged $150,000 to $200,000 a week. To date, the cost of recovery projects in Halifax has exceeded $4.5 million dollars. And there are still three bridges to be built, on Reed Hill Road, Deer Park Road, and Hale Road.
Fortunately, the town has been reimbursed for much of that expense. Early on, the selectboard voted to hire Christina Moore as recovery project manager. It has been, and still is, a massive task, and Moore gets much of the credit for keeping the inflow of reimbursement dollars steady, allowing recovery to proceed as quickly as layers of regulation and bureaucratic requirements allow.
A mountain of paperwork has been generated. Here is an excerpt from one of Moore’s reports: “The formal project close-out process is necessary for all large (in excess of $64K) projects. We have 10. We need to deliver duplicate documents for all. In each packet (book) will be all information on our bidding process, all time cards, all related permits, and all invoices/payments as related to that project. Copies of policy will be made for each book. So, yes, some documents will be submitted 20 times.”
Documentation on bidding and purchasing is meticulous and complete, thanks to Joseph Tamburrino, who has acted as the town’s acquisitions agent throughout the crisis and recovery effort. Tamburrino’s expertise and hard work have been of inestimable value to the town.
Not every problem can be overcome by meticulous care and strenuous effort. Regulatory conflicts threaten reimbursement prospects for the Deer Park Road and Hale Road bridges. But the bridges will be built. Work on the Reed Hill Bridge has finally begun.
It has been an amazing journey, and it’s not over yet. But the time is in sight when Halifax will at last be able to say, “Good night, Irene.”