Will 'Vermont Strong' live on? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Will 'Vermont Strong' live on?

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August 28, 2011, changed Vermont forever.

Tropical Storm Irene killed six people, damaged 3,500 homes, ravaged countless roads and wiped out close to 300 bridges. Two-and-a-half years later many Vermonters are still rebuilding.

"I have friends that have businesses and things that they're still trying to recover from the effects of the storm," says Paul Buschner of Burlington.

Buschner dodged Irene's devastating wrath, but bought a Vermont Strong plate to support those who weren't as lucky. Proceeds from plate sales go to the Vermont Food Bank and the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund.

"Sometimes you come out with a special plate and there's pros and cons, but this one has been pretty much generally accepted," says Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle County.

About 40,000 Vermont Strong plates have sold so far. Mazza, who runs a general store in Colchester, says he still gets buyers, but sales have slowed.

"I bought ten more in January and they went. And I bought ten more last month and they went. In fact, I just ran out yesterday. I called motor vehicle today and I'll have ten more tomorrow. So, I didn't think I'd sell 20 plates in the last 6-7 weeks," says Mazza.

But come July those Vermont Strong plates are set to expire and drivers like Buschner will have to take them off their vehicles.

"People are pretty reluctant to buy them now not knowing if they can extend the time on their cars," says Mazza.

Now a bill in Montpelier is hoping to breathe new life into the fundraiser while helping the Department of Motor Vehicles get rid of the leftovers. But it won't make anymore. The Senate recently passed a provision that would allow drivers to keep the specialty plates on their cars for another two years funneling more funds into the charities helping the victims.

"It's a win-win all around. I don't see any losses in it at all," says Mazza.

And Mazza says state and municipal police are also on board despite initial concerns that only having one plate makes it trickier for investigators and witnesses when it comes to identifying cars involved in crimes.

"We do have to adapt to that and look at other aspects to help us solve crimes, but in the long run I think it's a good thing for Vermont," says Officer Jake Seller of the Burlington Police Department. 

"It will either go up on the wall of my shop or it will stay on my truck. But one way or the other we won't be getting rid of it," says Buschner.

Tuesday the bill moves to the House for a vote. Lawmakers say the extension is likely to pass. If that happens, it would come back to the Senate for final approval. Plates sell for $25.

As of Monday evening, 39,151 Vermont Strong plates had been sold and 3,521 were still available.

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