By Carla Occaso
As recently as last week, if you didn’t know your way around the back streets of Barre, the multiple road closures caused by the July 10–11 flood left you trying to guess your way around. But by July 30, Barre’s Main Street is mostly free of debris, although some side streets still have debris and evidence of flood damage. Along the beltway you can see a giant mudslide cutting through the side of the hill, although mud has been removed from the roadway it once blocked. And asphalt appears to be swallowing a vehicle at a dealership located on North Main Street.
Meanwhile, up at the Barre Auditorium, the way is still clearly marked for disaster relief. In addition to shelter within the Aud are supplies and resources — material and spiritual — offered by people in trucks set up in the parking lot with license plates from all over the country. One man sitting on the steps of the Aud on July 17 told The Bridge he was among about 50 people still sleeping inside, which was down from over 100 something at the height of the disaster. And by July 30, there were far fewer, according to a worker with a red vest labeled American Red Cross. She estimated fewer than 20 people were staying inside.
However, there were still around 25 to 30 animals — dogs, cats, a bunny, and two guinea pigs (one hairless) are still being sheltered at the B.O.R. Ice Arena. Lisa Lemieux of the Central Vermont Disaster Animal Response Team said the animals belong to people who are staying at the Auditorium shelter and also to people who lost their home and cannot take pets with them. This is the first time the organization has taken in animals, although they set up to do so on two previous occasions, but nobody had needed them before.
The animal rescue team also took in and distributed animal supplies such as dog and cat food and other supplies from Wellness and Pet Food Warehouse.
Outside these buildings on the parking lot, a multi-agency disaster resource center was still set up, with signs out on Seminary Street labeled “Disaster Recovery.” Organizations included the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Southern Baptist Convention, and FEMA. They all had large RVs, trucks, and tents with what looked like more volunteers than customers by July 30.
Barre leadership discussed flood recovery concerns during the City Council meeting July 25. The main concerns were housing, roads, rebuilding, and taxes. City Clerk Carolyn Dawes spoke early about paying this year’s property taxes.
“Property tax bills are based on property value as of April 1st, so the bills we are sending out are pre-flood assessments,” Dawes said, adding that “I don’t want anyone to immediately panic” when they get their tax bills because they can apply for abatement if properties were damaged or destroyed. She urged people to make payments in full, and then get reimbursed via abatements.
City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro presented a flood recovery PowerPoint presentation. First of all, the city has filed insurance claims for all buildings damaged in the flood. Also, the public works garage proved to be the most damaged. Remediation is going on at the Public Safety building and at City Hall. North Main Street is one of the main issues, requiring major repairs because the pavement washed away. The remaining uneven, potholed surface has resulted in many people claiming motor vehicle damage after traveling the road. “The best thing to do is not to drive on North Main Street,” Storellicastro said. That section of road was opened as of July 28, and The Bridge checked it out, but was only willing to drive at about 15 miles per hour due to the extremely damaged road surface. Major repairs are required, Storellicastro said.
Housing is a major concern as well. Potentially hundreds of people have lost the ability to live in their rental units or homes following the flood. Storellicastro estimated about 300 to 400 people were impacted by the disaster, and 200 properties were inspected as of July 25. Of those 200, 94 were deemed safe for occupancy, 93 were deemed okay for partial occupancy due to heating and electrical systems having been under water, and 13 homes were deemed unfit for occupancy due to either landslides or structural impacts.
Storellicastro went on to discuss debris removal and other flood recovery issues. He reported that volunteers have been deployed for “debris collection, debris removal, and muck-outs.” The Agency of Transportation organized a volunteer effort to help on July 26. He noted that the city appreciates all the people who have volunteered. Additionally, the UVM Hockey team was scheduled to volunteer on Saturday, July 29. Volunteers continue to be sought for ongoing efforts.
And finally, Storellicastro mentioned the flood recovery resources available in the city. Renters in Washington County can apply for assistance to pay for temporary housing; replacement and repair of personal property; replacement and repair of tools and uninsured medical, dental, childcare, moving and storage expenses. FEMA representatives are set up at the Barre Auditorium to take questions and give out information.
More information on flood recovery resources and other information can be found here at the city’s website.