Town faces a number of challenges on road to recovery from Irene
by Randy Capitani
Aug 30, 2012 | 581 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The sign says it all. Chris Petrak, of South Newfane, drove this lawn tractor during Saturday’s Rock River Revival Parade in South Newfane and Williamsville.
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SOUTH NEWFANE- On Saturday, residents and supporters held events to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. The Rock River Revival Parade was a way for the community to reconnect, share stories, and support the local fire department. The parade stretched from South Newfane through the covered bridge to Williamsville. Hundreds came to march in the parade, cheer the participants from the side of the road, or enjoy the barbecue at the Williamsville Community Hall. Proceeds from the parade entry fees and the barbecue were donated to the Williamsville Fire Department. Organizers said they raised more than $1,500.

Even as the community along the Rock River rebuilds and recovers from the damage of Tropical Storm Irene, a number of concerns still remain for property owners and Newfane officials. The town faces myriad challenges in rebuilding from Irene.

“It’s been a long process,” said Newfane Selectboard chair Jonathan Mack. “There are some things the community can do, other things not.”

Chief among concerns for Newfane officials has been what to do about rebuilding the Lynch Bridge along the Dover Road, a bridge that served only one house, and where to put a pile of rubble that stands in South Newfane.

The selectboard was faced with a difficult decision on the Lynch Bridge, either rebuild the bridge to serve only one landowner or choose to take the funds that would have been designated for the bridge rebuild and use them for other projects in the town that could potentially benefit more people.

Lynch Bridge was washed away during Irene, as were a number of other bridges along the Rock River. What made the rebuild so agonizing for the board was that it only served an isolated property owned by the Monroe family. There is no other way in or out of the piece of land.

The board decided at a special meeting Thursday, August 16, to not rebuild the Lynch Bridge. Instead, they have offered the Monroes a buyout of their property. According to Mack, the parties are negotiating a price with the intent on completing the buyout.

“This issue is extremely complex for the town,” said Mack. “It has been anything but simple.”

The money for the buyout will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The agency will pay 81% of the FEMA obligation to rebuild Lynch Bridge under an “alternate project” program. According to Lynch, that works out to about $415,000 to the town. Some of that will be spent on the property buyout. The selectboard has developed a wish list for the rest of the money that includes road paving, replacing some heavy equipment, renovating the town offices, and digitizing the town tax maps.

“Were putting more into the list,” said Mack, “because we don’t know what FEMA will say is OK or not OK.”

FEMA also requires town approval for the alternate projects. Mack says that’s not a problem. “The projects include a significant amount of the funds toward things the town is already on record as needing.”

Aside from the Lynch Bridge, Newfane has faced a laundry list of issues related to damage from Irene. The total tab from Irene-related damage could exceed $5 million just for the town, let alone individual homes, businesses, and properties.

South Newfane was by far the hardest hit area. Four houses were completely lost, another handful of homes were rendered uninhabitable, and many property owners had land damage and fouled wells.

The town is still deciding what to do with the pile of river rubble now known as “the rockpile.” One thing is certain, according to Mack. FEMA won’t be able to offer any financial aid to remove the rubble.

“They help rebuild homes, but they don’t do anything with land whatsoever.”

Mack added that there may be money available to Newfane through the state of Vermont through a federal block grant program. “There are just major gaps in the kind of financial help you can get. What’s needed is help beyond the roads and bridges. The whole river valley was flooded tremendously. It took out vast amounts of vegetation, what we need is a healthy growth of vegetation.”

Mack added that after some back and forth, Newfane was able to submit a plan for re-greening much of the hardest hit. They are still awaiting word as to whether funds will be allocated.

Other parts of Newfane were also hit hard, according to Mack. There were some properties in Newfane itself, the Hunter Brook and Adams Hill areas above South Newfane, and the Newfane-South Wardsboro Road.

Overall, Mack is optimistic that Newfane will see most of its expenses covered by federal aid. He’s also proud of what the townspeople have done with limited resources.

“The community can do what it can, but we still need a lot of help from the outside. It will be a long time until we are truly revived.”

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