E. Middlebury passes river petition

EAST MIDDLEBURY — More than 100 Middlebury residents have signed a petition that urges local, state and federal governments to cooperatively get the wheels turning on a mitigation project to prevent future flooding on an East Middlebury stretch of the Middlebury River.
Spearheaded by East Middlebury resident Maren Mecham, the petition will be submitted to the Middlebury selectboard at its Nov. 22 meeting. Meacham said signatures are still being gathered on copies of the petition posted at the Downhome Deli on Ossie Road, Goodro Lumber on East Main Street, the Ripton Country Store on Route 125 and Mecham’s porch at 70 Ossie Road.
The petition is a “direct result,” Mecham said, of a special selectboard meeting in East Middlebury on Oct. 27. At that meeting, many townspeople called on the board to make numerous river alterations before the snow flies. But after the state Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched investigations into the town’s river work following damage from Tropical Storm Irene, the board told residents it wasn’t at liberty to continue such work at the moment. Furthermore, town officials said that they felt stymied by outside regulators, abandoned by the state and blocked by the feds.
A group of residents concerned about future flooding met after the Oct. 27meeting, and Mecham went on to draft the petition and began gathering signatures last week.
The petition is meant to act as a tangible record of the sentiments expressed at the special selectboard meeting in October, said Mecham. She mentioned that there is a wide range of opinions when it comes to managing the threat posed by the river. While some residents call for further river dredging, others warn such action could result in more severe flooding further down the line.
“It was clear, and still is, that there are widely varying opinions about exactly what should be done. The petition does not attempt to answer that question,” said Mecham. “What it does say is that we want three things: for the town to continue to cooperate with the other agencies involved, to study the river and make a plan, and to actively protect the river and the village.”
The town is already beginning to initiate a river study and hazard mitigation plan. At last week’s selectboard meeting, the board announced the forthcoming formation of a task force dedicated to this undertaking. Led by Town Manager Bill Finger, the team will likely include representatives from the ANR, the local planning commission, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and a river scientist.
To encourage further collaboration between state agencies and towns like Middlebury, Gov. Peter Shumlin last week announced the creation of the Community Recovery Partnership. The aim of this partnership is to organize regional gatherings for towns to meet with a team of representatives from the state agencies of Commerce and Community Development, Transportation, Human Services and Natural Resources, in addition to representatives from local and regional planning commissions and regional development corporations.
“We know that all recovery is local and the best role for the state is to support the towns,” said Shumlin in a press release announcing the partnership. “The first step is to talk with communities about both their current needs and their future plans, in order to better gauge the additional assistance they will need going forward.”
Selectboard members, town officials and residents interested in having a community discussion with the state should contact Faith Ingulsrud of the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development at 802-828-5228 or by e-mail at [email protected].
Many East Middlebury residents, however, still have one primary demand: They want debris removed from the river to hopefully prevent spring ice damming.
“We request that the town and our legislators obtain permission for the removal of fallen trees so the town is ready in case such action should be necessary before the spring of 2012,” reads the East Middlebury petition.
 Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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