Repairs ongoing from floods

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-20-2023 11:20 AM

WOODSTOCK — The waters receded more than four months ago, but across the Upper Valley, residents are still recovering from July’s historic flooding event as winter nears.

At Riverside Mobile Home Park in Woodstock, the impacts this go-around weren’t as bad as the damage wrought by Tropical Storm Irene 12 years ago, said Dale Snader, owner of Dale’s Homes in White River Junction, which specializes in mobile home sale and repair.

“I rebuilt that park after Irene,” said Snader.

At that time, Snader was hired by Riverside’s then-owner, The Housing Foundation, a Montpelier-based nonprofit, to get the park back in order. A flooding Ottauquechee River had damaged a number of homes and left residents without electricity for five days.

Still, this year, his expertise was needed again.

In July, water didn’t reach the interior of any homes in the park. But it did run under 12 of them, leaving “a lot of mud and wetness,” said Jenevra Wetmore, program director for nonprofit Sustainable Woodstock. The organization helped raise $70,000 in donations for repair to damaged skirting.

The money will pay for the labor and supplies to install pre-fabricated insulated skirting, as well as new heat tape on piping.

In the 20-acre park of about three-dozen residences, occupants own the homes they live in, but the Vermont State Housing Authority, which took charge of the park last year, owns the land.

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Only two of the homes had insulation behind the skirting before the flood, and the only one with “significant” insulation, Wetmore said, was built by Hartford-based nonprofit COVER Home Repair.

So far, Snader and his workers have been able to repair the skirting on nine homes. Three still remain, he said.

In the days after the flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, showed up to Riverside and made sure people had dehumidifiers, food and cleanup supplies, Wetmore said.

“But no one was getting a plan ready for winter,” Wetmore said.

And the wait list for subsidized weatherization through Southeastern Vermont Community Action, which serves Windsor and Windham counties, has long been upwards of nine months, Wetmore said. The program distributes Vermont’s weatherization funding for low-income residents.

Residents of the park were offered “around 200 to 300 dollars,” in FEMA assistance, Wetmore said. The cost for insulated skirting and new plastic sheeting to sit between a home and bare ground, called a vapor barrier, can cost between $5,000 and $6,000.

The FEMA money “won’t really make a dent in actual losses and costs of things,” Wetmore said.

‘Now it’s a marathon.’

Just after 4 a.m. on July 12, Chelsea resident Snook Downing woke to the sound of a back storage room at his Route 110 house being ripped off by rising floodwaters.

Downing, 76, ensured that his corgi, Peewee, was safe, but the furnace and water heater in his basement were destroyed, submerged in four feet of water.

With financial assistance from FEMA, which “just about” covered his costs, Downing was able to finish demolishing what remained of the back room, purchase a propane wall heater and install a new water heater upstairs.

“I said, ‘I won’t be going through that again,’ ” he said. “It’d just be asking for trouble. We’d had high water before, but this was the worst we ever had.”

Downing was able to get the repairs and installations completed by people he knew within weeks of the initial damage.

“That’s what’s good about living in a small town,” he said. “I know people that do different trades, and they can help me out.”

The construction labor shortage, however, has loomed over flood recovery work across the state. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is preparing to launch a $200,000 program that offers bonuses to contractors who help customers with flood-related repairs, said Matthew Smith, a spokesperson for the state’s energy-efficiency utility, Efficiency Vermont, which is helping coordinate the effort.

The labor shortage is “a known challenge, and something that I can say everybody at Efficiency Vermont, and our regulators, are painfully aware of,” Smith said.

Efficiency Vermont offers a number of rebates to incentivize the purchase of less emissions-intensive heating and electrical equipment, such as heat pumps.

In late August, the organization announced $36 million in aid for income-eligible Vermonters to pay costs related to replacing water and home heating systems damaged by the flood. The funding is available for the purchase of qualified products retroactive to July 10.

But even when the money is at hand, finding contractors to do the work is challenging, Smith said.

In the days immediately after the flood, volunteers came to Chelsea to help with mold remediation, and to clean and dry out flooded cellars, said Tracy Simon, the town’s emergency manager. The boots-on-the ground grunt work there is over.

“Now it’s a marathon” Simon said. “But it’s not necessarily a marathon where you’re running. It’s a marathon where you’re on your hands and knees crawling.”

The priority these days for the town is “documenting everything you did during the emergency” to best ensure adequate reimbursement from FEMA, Simon said. That takes a lot of paperwork, and a lot of time. The town hired a resident specifically to deal with the bureaucratic load.

Simon has received a few interests in floodplain buyouts, and “that process is going to take awhile,” she said.

But that’s just the name of the game, Downing said.

“It took a bit of time to get everything back together for me, but I’ve made it,” said Downing, whose Chelsea home was damaged in the flooding. “In Vermont, we get through it. We just go through things one day at a time.”

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION: Jenevra Wetmore uses gender neutral pronouns. A previous version of this story used incorrect pronouns to identify Wetmore and misspelled their first name. Riverside Mobile Home Park sits next to the Ottauquechee River. The same story misspelled the name of the river.