The town of Waterbury and the state of Vermont want to study a shared idea: that damage to the Waterbury office complex and people's homes during Tropical Storm Irene could have been prevented.
John Grenier sits on the Waterbury Select Board, and as an engineer himself, he's taken a strong interest in studying the bridge. He calls it a choke point, meaning the high land and narrow river create a natural dam near the bridge on Winooski Street that prevents water from accessing its natural flood plain during a storm.
"This stretch of the river caused water to rise here, wash out the road, destroying a house that was behind you and also debris if free was trapped by the bridge," Grenier said.
Several homes on Randall Street, which is adjacent to the Waterbury complex, sustained significant damage from Irene. Engineers say if it weren't for the choke point water might not have even reached this street and it wouldn't have touched the Waterbury complex.
The plan is to study the best option to mitigate flooding. Grenier proposes they dig out the surrounding land allowing the water to pass over it more easily. They've also discussed a more expensive option: raising the bridge itself.
"If you lower the land in the field the water has more room to spread out and doesn't get that deep," Grenier said.
"If they can do that that would reduce the number of floods at the complex. So of course that would benefit us and we'd love to see it," said Dave Burley of the Vt. Department of Buildings and General Services.
Burley says no matter what the study finds, the state is moving forward with a plan to make sure the buildings at the new Waterbury office complex are designed to withstand another Irene. But there's one problem; recent uncertainty regarding FEMA funding may put them back at square one.
"We had settled on modified option B, but because of the funding concerns with FEMA that may or may not happen," Burley said.
Plan B at the Waterbury complex also includes removing land behind the complex to lower the flood plain there, as well. But a project like that is expensive and with funding in question, it's hard to say what flood mitigation strategy will be given the highest priority.
Engineers say it's unrealistic to expect there won't always be some flooding in Waterbury, but this bridge study could significantly change how drastic the flooding is. It could be the difference between a couple of inches and a number of feet of water in people's homes.
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