Vergennes slammed by severe rainstorm

VERGENNES — Heavy rains, lightning and thunder struck most of Addison County last Wednesday afternoon, but no storm slammed any site as hard as the one that targeted Vergennes.
According to city public works head Jim Larrow, starting at around 4 p.m. on May 16 two-and-a-half inches of rain fell in 45 minutes, overwhelming many city storm drains and culverts as well as stormwater drainage systems in many Vergennes subdivisions.
Many basements flooded, some for the first time ever, Larrow said, and water surged over parts of MacDonough Drive, Monkton Road and Armory Lane, as well as South Water Street and South Maple Street backyards along Otter Creek.
Too much water simply poured down too fast, said Larrow, who described his phone as ringing off the wall on Wednesday afternoon.
“Our culverts couldn’t take it,” Larrow said. “We got calls saying their basements were flooded, and their basements had never flooded.”
Of course, those with homes in neighborhoods with known drainage problems — such as the Bowman Road area, where city officials have hired a firm to evaluate the issue — were hit hard.
Larrow said he regretted telling homeowners there on April 23, 2011, that a repeat of devastating flooding on that day after a similar storm was unlikely to be repeated. Especially after an unusually mild winter that more pleasantly surprised his department, he said he would no longer be making weather-related predictions.
“I’m done with that,” Larrow said.
After that similar storm a year ago, his department did replace stone and improve drainage along Green Street, and Larrow was happy to see that work paid off with no flooding of that road.
“That was really encouraging,” he said.
What didn’t help was the two rainy weeks that preceded Wednesday’s downpour. Larrow contrasted how much the city’s drainage system must handle if turf is already rain-soaked rather than if the ground is drier.
“You can see a big difference if it hasn’t rained in a couple weeks,” he said.
City resident Carol Scott said she was driving home via Hinesburg and Monkton watching the storm clouds as they moved in, and noticed that the worst of the storm was concentrated over Vergennes and Ferrisburgh.
“I actually sat on my driveway for five minutes waiting for a break in the rain,” Scott said. “It was coming down so hard I knew that both I and my car would be drenched if I opened a door. Shortly after I got inside there was half-inch hail for several minutes.
“The amount of water flowing through the streams and creeks in the south side of Vergennes was amazing,” she continued. “All of the culverts passing under roads were completely overwhelmed; I saw water more than five feet deep in a yard upstream of one culvert. In another place water was pushing up out of the storm drains, actually lifting a manhole cover.”
Scott said she was thankful that she had seen or heard of any significant damage.
By lunchtime on Thursday, Larrow estimated his crew was about halfway finished sweeping streets and cleaning culverts after working until about 8 p.m. the night before.
During the lunch hour, he also got some good news: a weather forecast of a several sunny days to come.
“I just watched the weather, and I was smiling at what he was saying,” Larrow said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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