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Irene repairs offer chance to really fix infrastructure

ADDISON COUNTY — As Tim Bouton, emergency response planner for the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, made his local rounds after Tropical Storm Irene, he urged towns to drastically rethink their roads, public buildings and other infrastructure and get them out of the flood plain.
“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,” he said in a recent interview. “The river’s 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.”
In a visit with the Bristol selectboard last month, Bouton urged the town leaders to think outside the box, suggesting the town might consider closing Lincoln Road to traffic since only one Bristol resident lives there and the town spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every decade to repair it. Although picturesque, Bouton also thinks Route 125 — in the Middlebury River’s flood plain — is likely not the most stable route heading over the Green Mountains.
Not only should roads be re-imagined, said Bouton, but towns should, too.
“An example of one of the ideas we identified in Ripton (before the river project in 2008) … was moving the village,” he said. “The village is built on a flood plain. 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. Anytime we allow something to be built in the flood plain, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice.”
How might East Middlebury — where the Middlebury River comes crashing off the mountains and meets the valley — move ahead after Tropical Storm Irene? Bouton said it’s complicated.
“East Middlebury is basically built on the flood plain. It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “In that situation, a mitigation project, which is favored by anyone if you can do it, is removing (infrastructure and homes) from the flood plain. Long-term, the river will win that battle. (The rivers) have been in place for millions of years. The simple fact that humans have been in that spot for 100-200 years is insignificant to the river. The river will win that battle.
“It may be there’s a lot of interest to excavate the bottom of the river out and build a flood wall,” Bouton said about recent sentiments expressed by East Middlebury residents. “That’s not a solution. It’s just a Band Aid on a foot-long gash.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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