Opinion: Former Transportation official touts Minter’s Irene efforts
This week’s writer is Brian Searles, who served as transportation secretary in two different administrations and retired from the position in 2014.
I recently read a press release from the Vermont Republican Party that attempts to cast a shadow over the role gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter played in the response to Tropical Storm Irene. The release titled, “Vermont Media Begins to Lift The Curtain on Minter’s Irene Claims,” includes quotes from a party official and from an editorial that ran in the Caledonian Record newspaper.
As someone who worked side-by-side with Minter during the response, I feel it necessary to set the record straight about factual inaccuracies that are evident throughout this piece. I consider both candidates in the Governor’s race to be my friends; I am not endorsing either one.
In the days before Irene, virtually all of state government was preparing for the worst. In the months that followed, nearly 3,600 people, led by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, came together to repair our severely damaged state highway system. Sue Minter was my deputy secretary at the time and worked as hard and as effectively as anyone on the team to manage the complex array of resources both, here in Vermont, and from neighboring states that came to our aid.
She worked in the planning and implementation of the response, both in the headquarters, and also in the field. She was directly responsible for the critical and highly successful public information function, and in dealing day-to-day to boost the morale of the highly stressed workers who knew they were up against the onset of winter. Still, the job got done, and in only four months, they reopened 500 miles of highway, 200 damaged or destroyed bridges and reconnected 13 communities isolated by the storm. Minter’s leadership in this effort was invaluable.
It is important to note that the work on the state highway side was different from, but concurrent with, the effort to deal with the losses of private citizens, businesses and municipalities. This effort had separate federal funding and was led for the first four months by former Douglas administration official, Neale Lunderville, whose role is mischaracterized in the press release. Lunderville did a great job establishing the Irene Recovery Office, playing a key role in the success of the overall response.
However, it is simply wrong to suggest that he played a role in the recovery of the state highway system. The Republican press release attempts, though quotes from the Caledonian Record editorial, to suggest that Minter’s role was diminished by the Lunderville role when, in fact, they were working on two separate aspects of the recovery.
After four months, Lunderville left the temporary position, and the Governor appointed Minter to continue as Irene recovery officer due in large part to her great work on the state system damage. In fact, a couple of years later, three members of our management team, led by Minter, responded to a request from the state of Colorado to help with a similar flooding disaster.
Let me be as clear as I can about this. Vermont had a model recovery from this terrible storm that did more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in damage and took six lives. Although many were involved, no one worked harder to make this recovery successful than Sue Minter. She has correctly stated in her campaign that she “helped lead” this effort and she certainly did.
I am personally grateful for Minter’s great work and leadership in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, and I am personally offended that anyone would question her contribution for partisan political gain.