The Montpelier Flood Choir set the tone for the second of three flood recovery forums Aug. 22, singing “Requiem” — composed after the 2004 Asian tsunami and dedicated to victims of natural disasters — as about 200 people filled the Statehouse House chambers to overflowing for a two-and-a-half-hour working session, the next step after a massive brainstorming forum on Aug. 11.
A 16-page list of ideas and potential action items came out of the Statehouse meeting, along with a common understanding that natural disasters like the heavy rains, landslides, and flood that hit Vermont on July 10-11 will happen again, could occur sooner than anticipated, and could cause even bigger floods. As a result, a palpable sense of urgency has characterized the comments and ideas generated during the forum series, which has been organized by Montpelier Strong, a partnership of the Montpelier Foundation and Montpelier Alive, in collaboration with the city of Montpelier.
While the first forum on Aug. 11 gave people a chance to vent, brainstorm ideas for rebuilding Montpelier, and prepare for the effects of climate change, the second forum pulled ideas from the first, and participants broke into working sessions to generate a list of actions. The third forum — scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Montpelier High School — is the “concluding meeting of this series designed as a ‘Vision and Action Dialogue for all who live, work or care for the future of Vermont’s capital city,’” according to Paul Costello in a Sept. 2 Front Porch Form post. Costello has been moderating the forums as part of his role at Montpelier Strong.
The Sept. 7 meeting will review the ideas that have been contributed by the public, consider what’s most important, set priorities for action, and promote next steps needed to drive recovery and resilience efforts, Costello added.
Addressing the 200-plus group of local leaders and residents at the Statehouse Aug. 23, Costello said “We are gathered here [after the] greatest disaster Montpelier has faced in the past 100 years. It’s not a day today for debate, politics … one-upmanship or fighting for your corner. …. Today we’re not going to make the decisions that bind on law; we are going to make the decisions for what we stand for together.”
Costello also noted “This is a working session — not a brainstorm session,” and formed nine breakout sessions on topics that included: emergency planning and warning system, food systems and security, leadership for recovery and resilience, supporting public health and well-being, financial recovery and resilience, river corridor and downtown flooding, supporting downtown, city infrastructure, and action in the face of climate change.
A local expert led each group, and discussions focused on what is currently happening, ideas for the short and long term, and priority ideas for action. Session leaders reported back at the end of the evening, and their notes were then used to compile a list to inform the Sept. 7 meeting.
Before the breakout sessions started, Sarah DeFelice, owner of the Main Street clothing store Bailey Road, addressed the crowd: “In order for us to come back, change needs to happen,” she said. “… We want our streets back, … we want our doors open, we want our Sunday stroll … . In order for that to happen, we have to be open to change.”
Some common ideas generated at the forum included reviving the Capital Area Neighborhood network and using it to get information out to neighborhoods before and after natural disasters; a need to reach out in person, rather than communicate solely with digital formats such as websites, emails, and texts; a general shout-out to Montpelier Alive and the Montpelier Department of Parks and Trees for their fast action in developing a volunteer and donation hub, as well as kudos to the Rainbow Bridge Community Center in Barre for doing similar work there. Across breakout sessions people said the city should build on that good work to continue to develop effective volunteer networks.
Other common themes in breakout sessions included a need to reach out to those who are disabled, elderly, pregnant, or otherwise unable to evacuate on their own; consider solving problems regionally rather than focusing only on Montpelier; making sure to include in disaster warnings and communication those who are unhoused or renting as well as property owners. Mostly, it was noted that “this is a multifaceted problem that does not just concern Montpelier,” according to one speaker in the river corridor session.
Notes from the meeting and information about the Sept. 7 forum are available at montpelierstrong.org/public-forum.