Dorset to seek funds to combat recurring floods near Route 7A

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DORSET — The town of Dorset will seek financial assistance through Vermont Emergency Management for projects intended to mitigate the impact of flooding near the intersection of Route 7A and Read Farm Lane.

At its Aug. 18 meeting, the Select Board voted to apply for grants that would support the rerouting of flood-prone Brookside Drive and the acquisition of the property that currently houses the Chantecleer Restaurant, which according to Dorset Town Manager Rob Gaiotti has suffered more than $500,000 in damage due to flooding.

The vote to submit the applications, which are due around the end of August, followed a presentation by representatives from Northstar Hydro, Inc., and Ripple Natural Resources, LLC, a consultant team hired by the town last December to develop possible solutions for flooding in the area.

Flooding caused by storms and run-off events have "severely restricted access to five ... homes on Brookside Drive and caused temporary access issues" for many homes on Read Farm Lane, the town stated in a document seeking proposals from consulting firms last year.

The Northstar and Ripple project team confirmed that the water-surface elevation of the Batten Kill under the Route 7A bridge located just north of Brookside Drive has increased over the past 17 years. Through satellite imagery and fieldwork, the team found that a segment of the river east of Route 7A and a nearby rail line is "significantly blocked," a situation it attributed to decades of beaver activity and sediment deposition.

There are at least three major beaver dams in the area blocking the river's flow, according to the group's presentation.

Nicole Buck, an engineer with Northstar Hydro, told the board the blockage has altered the flow of the Batten Kill.

"This means that the Batten Kill is not capable of channeling its flow away from" the Route 7A bridge and a nearby railroad bridge," Buck said. "There's no longer a direct path for water to get through the wetland."

Hydraulic modeling developed by the project team found that, even in normal spring conditions, nearly half of the Batten Kill's flow leaves its channel only a few hundred feet downstream of the railroad bridge. Farther downstream, a significant portion of the river's flow travels in a ditch next to the rail line.

Under normal circumstances, the railroad ditch should contain no water or only "a small trickle," though the latter "means that the railroad bed is saturated — and you don't want the railroad bed saturated, which we have right now," Buck said.

If no remedial actions are taken to address the current state of affairs, Brookside Drive will flood two to three times per year, Read Farm Lane and Butternut Glen Road will flood in 15-year storms, the lower part of the railroad bridge will be submerged under low-flow conditions and the lower part of the Route 7A bridge will be submerged under high-flow conditions, according to Buck's presentation.

As part of plans to improve structures along its corridor from Bennington to Rutland, Vermont Railway is proposing to replace the railroad bridge near Route 7A, currently a 45-foot span, with a 60-foot bridge, Buck said. A new culvert south of the bridge is also planned.

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Those changes would mean that the low chord of the bridge would sit above the water-surface level during normal spring flows, Buck said, but they would not alleviate flooding in the Brookside Drive area.

PROPERTY BUYOUT

Other alternatives analyzed by the project team included the potential acquisition of the Chantecleer property and the relocation of a portion of Brookside Drive — the two ideas for which the board, following some discussion, elected to pursue funding at this time.

A preliminary, "conservative" cost-benefit analysis conducted by the project team indicates that the purchase of the Chantecleer property would be eligible for the grant funding, Buck said. Further pursuit of this option will require more discussion with its owner, obtaining a fair-market appraisal of the property and determining the cost-per-square foot to replace the structure. The eventual purchase would not reflect the value of the restaurant's business, only the land and structure.

A message left at the Chantecleer Restaurant on Monday afternoon wasn't immediately returned.

The Brookside Drive project would entail constructing a new stretch of road at a higher elevation so that, rather than connecting directly to Route 7A, Brookside would connect to Read Farm Lane. This would mean that residents of Brookside Drive would no longer be "stranded ... when the river overtops" — at least not unless there is a 15-year storm, which modeling indicates would flood Read Farm Lane, Buck said.

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A draft cost estimate indicates that constructing the road would cost $241,000, according to the presentation. That figure includes funds for acquiring an easement.

At least for now, the Select Board is not pursuing a more dramatic — and likely red-tape-ridden — alternative put forward by the project team: excavating a new channel through the wetland area east of Route 7A and the railroad.

"Environmental conservation is very near and dear to my heart, and typically I would never propose opening up a wetland and adding a channel to it," Buck said. "But we — both Matt [Murawski, of Ripple] and I — felt that this is really the only way to alleviate flooding upstream."

Permitting for the envisioned 500-foot-long, 37-foot wide channel, she said, would be a "nightmare," but the improvements would be significant. The channel would help to convey water away from the railroad and Route 7A and toward lower-lying wetlands during annual storms, and it would help to lessen flooding above Route 7A.

Getting the channel designed and permitted could be accomplished "maybe within a couple years, I think, if everything came together and there was significant political pressure to make it happen," Murawski said.

SEDIMENTATION

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A few weeks ago, "at the tail-end of the project," Buck said she discovered that a significant amount of sediment had accrued around the Route 7A bridge since her team's fieldwork in March.

After conducting new measurements and consulting a survey performed for the railroad last November, Buck found that bridge-flow capacity has decreased 40 percent from November to July. That means her team's model, which relies on the March fieldwork, is outdated.

"The rate of sediment deposition here is not something that I've seen very frequently," Buck said. "It's, I will say, a bit alarming to me." She's informed the state agencies of transportation and natural resources of her findings.

These findings suggest that flooding patterns in the area "may continue to get worse," said Buck, who encouraged the board to monitor and document the sedimentation.

SHORT-TERM

Buck recommended that the board focus on the restaurant buyout and Brookside Drive project for the immediate future, given the complexity of permitting for the new-channel excavation.

If obtained, the grants through VEM would cover 75 percent of project costs, with the remainder coming from local sources that could include in-kind activities like use of town equipment, according to the presentation.

After the board voted unanimously to pursue funding for the two short-term projects, Select Board Chair Megan Thorn said the issue needs to be solved.

"What I really hope is that we can get to alternative number six" — the proposed channel excavation — "and put some pressure on, because that seems to me to be the only way to really solve the issue," Thorn said.

In an email Monday, Town Manager Rob Gaiotti wrote that the town is "currently putting things together" related to the grant applications to meet a deadline for the following week.

"I'm hoping we can engage stakeholders about long term options to solve these issues," Gaiotti wrote.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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