Two Years later, Irene's legacy lingers

MANCHESTER - On Aug. 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene made its final landfall on the shores of Brooklyn, and its effect on Vermont was not far behind.

By the time Irene departed and its forces were weakened, it had left a trail of destruction nationally totaling approximately $15 billion, the seventh most costly hurricane in the history of the United States. Vermont alone has spent $565 million so far, from both the state and federal level, to help clean up and recover, and they aren't finished yet.

Throughout the state, the cost of repairs to roads and bridges alone are estimated to cost over $700 million, according to a Vermont Radio report just after the hurricane.

In Sunderland, they are still feeling the effects of repairing from the hurricane. Kelley Stand Road, also known as Forest Highway 6, was severely damaged during the hurricane.

"The road was completely wiped out," said Mark Hyde. "One bridge was completely gone... another had been shifted off its supports." As if it wasn't bad enough that the road had become completely unpassable, rendering a handful of full-time residents on the lower end of the road temporarily inaccessible, there was one small house that had been completely washed away.

The lower portion of the road had sustained massive damage; there are portions of that area that are still inaccessible.

Thanks to quick emergency repairs done within the first month after Irene, the full-time residents of the road are able to access their homes if they approach from the Stratton side.

In the summer of 2013, the town was able to secure the rights to repair the road themselves, with help from the Forest Service. A bidding system was opened up, and the winning bid was awarded to J. A. McDonald Inc. of Lyndon Center Vermont.

The bulk of the work remains, including restoration on the bank of the river as well as removal of debris. This was considered Phase One of the project, and Phase Two encompassed the bidding process.

Now that the bidding is complete, the town can move onto the next phase, which is the work done by the construction company to completely repair the road. The money for the final phase was secured by the Forest Service from the Federal Highway Division.

"The town pays the bills to the construction company, and the town is reimbursed through the Forest Service, who received the money from the Federal Highway Division," Hyde said. "It's a complicated process, but the town doesn't have $3.6 million dollars, so it comes from the Forest Service."

Hyde expects the construction to begin sometime in September, and to be completed by September of 2014.

Manchester was lucky enough to make it out of the store relatively unscathed, but they were also able to learn some of the biggest lessons.

"We recovered in a matter of days," said Town Manager John O'Keefe. "We also had some assistance from the Village."

Within 48 hours after Irene left the area, crews had cleared mounds of debris off Richville Road, one of the hardest hit areas of Manchester.

"We even had crews working during the storm to clear culverts," said O'Keefe.

Rootville Road, however, took an additional three weeks before it was passable again. The road had been all but washed away, and the rushing water left a fifteen-foot indentation in the road which struck a major water line.

"It was all twisted steel," O'Keefe said of the broken piping.

Manchester saw a lot of water issues in the wake of Irene; a boil order was put out due to multiple broken pipes.

"Through the [Emergency Operations Center]... we were able to analyze data and say 'hey, something's wrong with the water'... so we could put out a boil order immediately," said O'Keefe.

After the storm passed, the town began conducting a series of water testing on their own. In order to expedite the process, members of the fire department drove the water samples themselves up to Burlington.

However, since Irene, O'Keefe said that they have been much quicker to respond to natural disasters and troublesome weather.

An Emergency Operations Center (EOS) has been built in the Public Safety building, dedicated solely to keeping contact with departments and organizations during an emergency. Prior to Irene, however, the EOS had been simply a corner in the building, and those involve found it difficult to operate.

"We were in a corner... you would have officers and fire fighters, in full uniform, coming in from the street and shouting to each other... while we're in the corner trying to contact people. It was very difficult," said O'Keefe.

One of the key tools in how Manchester was able to keep everyone notified was slightly unorthodox compared to past storms.

"Our Facebook page became critical," said O'Keefe. "We jumped to over 1,500 likes in one day... people were asking questions and posting photos. I think it also helped keep people off the streets because they were notified through our page. It helped put the word out faster."

O'Keefe also places a lot of why the town was so quick to recover on the preparation efforts made in the days leading up to the storm.

"We had our town engineer in on Saturday to check things over," O'Keefe said. "Also, the town was well-protected."

Like Sunderland, Jamaica is on its way to repairing damaged infrastructure from Irene.

The storm had not only caused the water in Ball Mountain Brook to hammer away at the embankment, it also carried away what is known as Bridge #30, which runs over the water.

"People were unsure of how to get from one side to the other," said Jamaica Select Board Chair Lexa Clark. "But they had water street, which was quickly put together after the storm... for a time people had to go through Windham."

Construction on the new bridge began in late spring of 2013; before the construction, a temporary bridge had been in place so that drivers could still get from one side to the other.

"It has been in place for years," said VTrans Project Manager Kristin Higgins in a prior interview, "but it's not ideal for permanent use."

The new bridge is set to be similar in design and structure as the original bridge, but with fancier handrails and under a different dedication - the Richard Hube Bridge.

It is being constructed in the same place as the original bridge, now that the work done to the embankment has been completed. It has been stabilized from 50 to 100 feet on either side to ensure that the water will flow in the proper channels and does not continue to erode the sides.

"The installation of the H-piles for the bridge was difficult because of the boulders we put in place when fixing the embankment," said Higgins. "But once we moved them it continued fine."

The embankment proved to be the only hardship in fixing the bridge, as the temporary bridge and the detour were put in place very quickly after Irene passed.

The bridge construction is so far on track, and has a tentative opening date of October 18.

Also on track to be repaired is a box culvert that was damaged in the area during the storm. The culvert was not a part of the original plan, but the contractor was able to work with the Environmental Agency and the Natural Resource Board to be able to fix the culvert this season instead of next year; the culvert is set to be completed by the winter. Then, all that will be left to complete in the construction will be seeding in the spring to ensure that everything continues to grow.

"People coped," said Clark. "You had to. At first there was the shock, but once everyone calmed down and realized what happened... they were able to adapt easily."


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