More than a year after historic flooding devastated portions of Northwestern Vermont, Upstate New York and Canada, an international panel is beginning to study the merits of a study.
Residents we spoke with after a Wednesday public meeting say they're glad to have the opportunity to weigh in on the response to last year's spring flooding but say they're frustrated with the pace of the effort.
A cool breeze blows off Lake Champlain in North Hero Wednesday night, as residents from Vermont, New York and Canada sat down to discuss last year's spring flooding. Water poured through Quebec last May as the Richelieu River provided the only escape for excessive spring run-off that flooded Lake Champlain. High-water persisted in Vermont for weeks as well, inundating homes, or washing out roads as was the case for Alburgh's Dick Ernst.
"We were hiking back and forth for about 3 weeks carrying the groceries," he said, "I'm just interested to hear what possible ways that we can make this so it doesn't happen on a routine basis or ever again for that matter."
Ernst and the two dozen or so others who attended won't get answers to that question for at least several more months and potentially never.
That's because the International Lake Champlain Richelieu River Workgroup is tasked with determining what factors a potential future study should look into regarding the floods and mitigation efforts. "There's a little bit of frustration, but not too much, I think a lot of people understand," said group co-chairwoman Jenifer Thalhauser.
The work group has a list of initial ideas and are filling it out with comments from the public. They spent Monday in Quebec hearing form those on the other side of the border. Flood prevention is at the tip of residents' tongues but it's not the sole concern. "They want to make sure we take into account the wetlands, the environment when we look at any possible solutions," she said.
She and her team have compiled more than 75 previous studies on Lake Champlain and the Richelieu River and will evaluate which areas won't need repeat attention.
Ernst says he's a bit frustrated by how long it has taken to get this process started but he says he's glad that Vermont, New York and Canada are approaching the task as a team. "The previous studies haven't come up with a solution so I think it is important that we do study the right thing this time," he said.
However, he and others in North Hero did express concern that momentum may dry up before anyone's ready to act.
The working group hopes to have a draft plan available for the public this October and submit a final study plan by December. At that point U.S. and Canadian officials will review the group's work and see if an actual study is merited.
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