photo by ap worldwide
SURVEYING DAMAGE Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (center) talks with Gov. Peter Shumlin (left) and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.

Vermont was grappling with cleanup work after tropical storm Irene hit the state, leaving at least 42 dead and damaging critical infrastructure, property and cultural gems such as covered bridges. For the state's lieutenant governor, the infrastructure damage has a particular resonance.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is co-owner of Dubois Construction, Middlesex, Vt. Some of Dubois' earthmoving equipment is now repairing infrastructure in central Vermont. “I'm not only trying to keep the business going, but also trying to plug holes for those affected by the catastrophic event,” Scott says.

In a Sept. 1 letter to President Obama, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) requested—and quickly received—disaster assistance and emergency relief aid for what Shumlin called the worst natural disaster in the state's history. “The Waterbury state office complex is uninhabitable,” the letter reports, noting damage to electrical, sewage, wastewater and water distribution systems in scores of towns.

Twenty thousand people, mostly in southern Vermont, were without power as of Sept. 2, down from 50,000 during the storm. Emergency vehicles have reportedly reached 13 isolated communities, but many roads are still inaccessible.

Scott says about 40 bridges were closed. “At one point during the storm, 400 roads were closed. Now 250 are closed, but many more are affected.”

In one southern section of the state, Scott says, a community had no damage, while three miles away, another community was devastated, with 35 homes affected and six destroyed. “Those folks were on an island with no way to get out,” he says.

Scott expects more sewer main breaks, similar to those in Waterbury. “These systems are aging,” he says. During a helicopter tour with a congressional delegation, Scott says they saw a whole segment of the Northeast Central Railroad, which runs from St. Albans to Springfield, washed away.

Many areas may not have enough aggregate to repair collapsed roads, Scott says. In Mendon, a section of road needs tens of thousands of yards of gravel and rock for rebuilding, he says. Since state and local permitting for gravel pits and quarries are very restrictive, “we may need an emergency declaration to allow pits to be opened,” he says.

Another concern is Vermont's short construction season. “In two months, the cold weather will set in, and even if all necessary resources were available, we couldn't complete the recovery,” he says. “We will have to continue working through the winter.”

natural disasters