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Flood Commission Talks Long Term Planning

Photo by Bob Fitch, Courtesy of Montpelier Alive.
More than 70 community members attended a public forum held by the Montpelier Commission for Recovery and Resilience on Feb. 15 to talk about long-term planning. 

“This meeting is an opportunity to share what we’ve done, but also to get a gut check,” said Ben Doyle, commission president.

The commission was formed after the July 2023 flooding, holding three public forums to brainstorm how to move forward. Over 1,000 people attended and identified the following priorities: watershed management, creating an adaptive downtown, having a more robust emergency response and preparedness plan, and long-term recovery for individuals.

“It’s not a realistic goal for the commission itself to become the leading expert in the state on these topics,” said James Rea, commission member, adding that the commission can “ensure that the various groups who are working in this field are talking to one another, you know, to connect the dots.”

Adaptive Downtown

Richarda Ericson, commission member, said one goal is to ensure basic services are available by foot, bike, or shared transportation, including grocery stores, pharmacies, and a post office. Speaking of the downtown post office, which is still closed, Ericson noted: “We have heard that the U.S. postal service is in negotiations on a lease, and we are going to hold them to that.”

Suggestions for an adaptive downtown included alternative uses for the state office complex parking lots, and having more separation between sewer and wastewater systems.

Meeting attendant Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), said “I think it won’t be that there are no more climate catastrophes. We don’t have that power here,” but with the actions discussed at the forum, both flooding and building vulnerability could be “less than it would have been in our downtown.”

Watershed Management

City Council member Lauren Hierl, who represents the city on the commission, said an opportunity recently came up to use an abandoned property at 5 Home Farm Way (on U.S. Route 2 near Agway) as a floodplain.

“During a flooding event, water could spread out onto this land and help slow it down before it reaches downtown Montpelier,” she said. The commission convened stakeholders, and received a $400,000 grant from the Flood Resilient Communities Program to remove a building on the site, and begin floodplain restoration. 

“This project is a really great example of what we see as kind of role the commission can play,” Hierl said.

Ned Swanberg, commission member and floodplain manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said the state is working on a scoping study for the Winooski River area, seeking opportunities for floodplain restoration to reduce flood damage. Swanberg said the commission will update the community once the study is complete.

Hierl said goals include reducing flood risks by better protecting rivers both upstream and downstream, reconnecting floodplains, and increasing water storage. To promote public understanding, “education is a really critical priority,” said Hierl.

In assessing infrastructure and looking at potential management or investment, Hierl said “some, like the Wrightsville dam, serve a flood control purpose,” while some smaller dams could potentially be removed.

Forum attendee and Wrightsville Beach board member Jon Copans noted “people come swimming [at Wrightsville] all the time. That’s a great space to do some education about the waterway.”

Emergency Response and Preparedness, and Long-Term Recovery

In addition to immediate action, Doyle said the commission recognized a need for individual assistance and a long-term recovery group. Growing from the work of the commission and in partnership with the Agency of Human Services, a new volunteer group called the Montpelier Disaster Recovery Network was formed, with an independent board led by Suzanne Belcher. The network is pursuing fiscal sponsorship and will serve a similar role to groups such as Barre Up, said Doyle.

“We have to remember residents who are hurting in many cases have not been made whole,” said Aly Richards, commission member.

Ed Haggett, a Montpelier resident of lower State Street, said the July 2023 flood waters were at shoulder height in his house. “FEMA’s not helping me get a place anymore. I just want people to be aware, we’re still out there, in pockets.”


The commission is in the process of hiring an executive director. “Once an executive director is in place, there’ll be a more robust social media presence,” said James Rea, “making sure that you have information from the commission, and very much vice versa.”

“In terms of next steps, this is intended to be a quarterly forum,” said Doyle. The next public forum is scheduled for May 23, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., at a location to be determined.