Editorial: Floating lead balloons

Here’s a provocative idea that makes total common sense, and yet it’ll float about as well as a bunch of lead balloons.
Tim Bouton, emergency response planner for the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, was talking in general about what has been learned in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene (and before), including the general premise that roads, and some villages, should not be located in flood plains.
“Many of our Vermont communities were built on flood plains. Anytime we have an opportunity to move anything out of the flood plain, we’re doing ourselves a huge benefit,” Bouton said in a recent interview with the Independent. (See Page 2A.) “Anytime we allow something to be built in the flood plain, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice.”
That’s sage advice. And, interestingly, Bouton was not just talking about moving roads out of the path of raging rivers, but also shifting communities where possible. He noted a discussion prior to the reconstruction project on Route 125 in 2008 (that rebuilt the road from East Middlebury to Ripton after it was demolished by a flood) questioning whether the river gorge was the best place for the road and how the village might be shifted so those key businesses, institutions and homes would not be subjected to routine flooding.
Area residents have the same quandary in East Middlebury and Bristol. And earlier in November, Bouton discussed with Bristol selectmen the idea of closing the section of Lincoln Road going from Route 116 at the twin bridges toward Lincoln village because of its potential for future flooding. Only one Bristol resident lives on the road, he noted, and yet the town spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each decade on repairs to the road. Alternative routes, though less direct, do exist.
Bouton’s logic is undeniable, but he’s also a realist. “I think people in my position would all agree that there are some man-built structures that we will do what we can as human beings to keep, but ultimately the river’s going to win. The river is always going to flood the areas that it’s always flooded and nothing that we can do is going to prevent that. Our best objective is to move homes and infrastructure and overbuild bridges.”
It’s refreshing to hear the long-term view said so plainly. It’s a reminder that our attempts to preserve what we have built in flood plains will always be costly endeavors. That, in turn, becomes a public policy issue. The plain question for all taxpayers is whether it makes more sense to move what we’ve built or continue to fight the natural forces we are trying to tame.
The question is essential to ask and is worthy of serious discussion, but we wonder which will fly first — those lead balloons or finding consensus on such ideas at Town Meeting?
Angelo S. Lynn

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