Home News and Features Winooski Water Level Reaches 16-feet as Central Vermont Prepares for More Flooding

Winooski Water Level Reaches 16-feet as Central Vermont Prepares for More Flooding

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pile of sandbags and teen boy in blue rain coat in front of red pick up truck with brick buildings in background.
Montpelier High School 10th grader Owen Sheehan stacks sandbags in front of city hall for use downtown. Photo by John Lazenby.
A familiar, frantic scene filled downtown Montpelier Monday afternoon, Dec. 18, as businesses and landlords raced to prepare for new flooding and city staff and Montpelier Alive reopened “the hub” — a volunteer connection network created during the July flooding just five months ago.

From a soggy tent outside City Hall, staff members coordinated volunteers helping businesses clear out flooding basements as the Winooski River rose to 16.1 feet by 5:45 p.m. Winooski water levels receded to 9.2 feet by the following morning. 

Many downtown businesses were already pumping out basements by 3 p.m., all of which had been under several feet of water in July, and the city had closed lower State Street near Bailey Ave., which had flooded. By Tuesday morning the city reopened it, but had to clear quite a bit of silt, said city manager Bill Fraser.

Unloading sandbags at city hall. Photo by John Lazenby.
Capitol Stationers owner Eric Bigglestone said he wasn’t concerned about flooding at his Main Street business again, even as a sump pump continuously pumped water out of his basement. “It’s already starting to flood in the basement,” he said, “but it’s from a pipe that was compromised from the last flood.”

Across Main Street, Rabble-Rouser had shin-deep water in the basement and volunteers and staff removed stock from lower shelves in the main store. Aubuchon Hardware — re-opened just three days before Monday’s event — was also pumping out flood waters from its basement. Aubuchon’s basement was completely empty because it no longer stores inventory there after having lost everything it had in the cellar during the July flood. Carl Witke, who works in Aubuchon operations, said the sump pumps had been going since 11 a.m. at the hardware store, “and they’re working harder and harder.”

By 3 p.m., Witke said staff members were not moving inventory in the event of a flood, but instead planned to stay open until 7 p.m., because “we know that people need stuff from us, and we want to be here to help them until as late as we can before we have to pull the plug.”

“Everybody’s extra on edge about this,” said Bear Pond Books co-owner Claire Benedict, who had already sent several staff members home by late afternoon Monday so they could avoid potentially flooding roads. “We’re worried about our store, but we’re worried about the people across the street that are closer to the river. And, yeah, nobody wants to see water back in any stores again.”

At the North Branch Cafe, next to the North Branch river on State Street, staff and volunteers quickly moved all food, supplies and refrigeration equipment out of the basement. Eventually, the cafe had several inches of water in the cellar. Staff and volunteers worked Tuesday morning to clean up and move things back.

Downtown Barre Flooded

As Montpelier business owners, city staff, and volunteers filled and distributed sandbags in preparation for flooding in downtown Montpelier, Barre had entirely closed off its watery downtown. The Red Cross emergency shelter at the Barre Auditorium opened in the late afternoon, and “Approximately 20 individuals from the region are being housed in the shelter,” according to the Facebook page for the city of Barre. 

The city also posted an announcement that Main Street in Barre between City Hall Park and Depot Square has been closed because of “flood waters breaching storefronts as cars pass by.”

“Our Main Street merchants have been there for us during the recovery, let’s be there for them now and help them avoid damages from this weather event,” the city said in a Facebook post.

Building owner Bill Kaplan works with sump pump in the basement of Rabble Rouser at 64 Main Street Monday afternoon. Photo by John Lazenby.

Sixteen Feet and Rising

“The National Weather Service is now predicting the (Winooski) river to crest at 16.7 feet, a slight downgrade from earlier predictions of 16.8,” stated a Montpelier city email update at 6 p.m., Dec. 18. “When Winooski River reaches 16 feet, Route 2 will flood at the Bailey Avenue Bridge, and the entrance to the Montpelier High School. Parking lots behind state office buildings next to the river will flood between Taylor Street and Bailey Avenue, and the approach to the Taylor Street bridge will be inundated. Low-lying fields and farmland will be inundated.”

Sign Up for Alerts 

Alerts from the state of Vermont came in throughout the day announcing road closures throughout central Vermont because of flooding, including in Roxbury, Waterbury, Waitsfield, Moretown, and Barre, as well as lower State Street in Montpelier due to water covering part of the road between Green Mount Cemetery and Bailey Avenue. Check road closures and hazards on New England 511 here: newengland511.org/.

In its 6 p.m. Dec. 18 email update, the city of Montpelier encouraged residents to register to receive VT-Alerts to get updates about emergency information. Sign up at https://vem.vermont.gov/vtalert. To get city updates, sign up here. And to monitor water levels, go to the National Weather Service.

All photos below are by John Lazenby. Click on the image to enlarge it.


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