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Living in a Bowl – Rutland, VT

by P.S. Carbonell

posted August 29, 2011

There are flood stories from all over our poor little state. Anyone who has grown up here and suffered through Vermont History in school can tell you that the Green Mountains run north-south, and they are crisscrossed with waterways that empty, ultimately, into the Connecticut River to the east, Lake Champlain to the northwest, and the Hudson River to the southwest. All of our communities grew up along those waterways, as they have carved the fertile valleys over the millennia. We are an old, old range of mountains.

Rutland is in a bowl in those mountains. To the East is the Killington Ski Area, the largest in the state, with the highest ski mountain in the state. Killington is a major employer for the Rutland area, particularly for the winter season, which is approximately two months away here. You can no longer drive from Rutland to Killington. Here’s why:

Route 4 headed east out of Rutland

With Route 4 East washed out completely by a stream that turned into a churning river, there are hundreds of Rutland residents who are looking at their seasonal employment on the Mountain being jeopardized. Fortunately, President Obama declared Vermont a federal disaster area at 3 a.m. this morning, so federal funds for the repair of infrastructure are already on their way (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor: you can hold federal disaster relief funds to your state hostage if you choose, but stay the hell away from ours, unless you’re really ready to take on Senators Leahy and Sanders!).

West of Rutland we’re okay, because Rt. 4 West was built halfway up the sides of the mountains there so it would have minimal impact on farming along that route. North of Rutland we’re okay on Rt. 7 until you hit Brandon, which has a pizza parlor in the middle of the road in downtown. No kidding. The Neshobe River flows through downtown Brandon, actually flowing under a portion of the shops along Rt. 7. It lifted the pizza parlor from its supports and pushed it onto the street. There was also significant erosion on the other side of the road, turning a small park into an island, and flooding low-lying residential areas.

Back to Rutland: we are cut off from the south, to a degree. There are small secondary and tertiary roads that can serve as detours, but they cannot handle tractor-trailer traffic. Rt. 7 South is also washed out, just south of the city:

Route 7 headed south out of Rutland

The fact that we are cut off from two of the cardinal directions has some important ramifications here, aside from Killington. As the second largest city in the state, Rutland draws a substantial part of its workforce from outside the city, including many of the nurses and doctors who run our medical center. We have offices here for the Social Security Administration, the state Department of Economic Services, the Southwest Vermont Council on Aging and many more agencies who serve the elderly, the disabled and the economically disadvantaged. Their workers are going to have difficulty getting to work, and their clients are going to have tremendous problems getting to the offices.

Then there is the problem of being a landlocked state. While some of our freight still comes in by rail, the vast majority of our foodstuffs come in by truck. We are cut off from Interstate 89 to the east, which brings freight from Boston, the nearest major saltwater port. The proponents of rail in the state may find this tropical storm will do for their cause what no amount of lobbying has: transfer substantial amounts of freight from trucks to rail cars.

As for flooding damage in the city, there were evacuations ahead of flooding in known low lying areas. Some areas of the city that were not expecting to face flooding did, and the Vermont National Guard deployed yesterday to assist in evacuating and affecting rescues from those areas. Fortunately, after the second year of flooding hit downtown businesses two years ago, the drainage from the downtown transit center/parking garage was repaired and there were no sloshing basements this morning. We also were spared problems with flash flooding and city water quality, because water was released from the Chittenden Reservoir ahead of the storm, to spare strain on the dam.

Sometimes, public officials really do get it right. We are lucky, here in Vermont, that we have so many of them.

Photos courtesy of Facebook members




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