Damage to local roads may run into the millions of dollars from the Halloween storm that howled through the region.
More than 3 inches of heavy rain swelled rivers and brooks, and the gushing water undercut some roadways, left gaping holes in others and washed some away altogether. Roads were particularly hard hit in Cambridge, Johnson and Wolcott.
In Stowe, a woman was badly injured when a tree fell on her; she was in fair condition Wednesday at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington.
In Johnson, a fire that broke out during the floods left eight people homeless, but no one was hurt.
People who live in Eden couldn’t get into or out of town; roads all around it had flooded. On Facebook, people compared notes, wondering if some combination of back roads might have avoided destruction, and might offer a way to get to work — or back home.
Power lines were ripped down by winds and falling trees, though utility companies went all-out to restore electrical service quickly. Generators were a hot commodity.
Private contractors had to be hired all over the region to haul material needed to help road crews reopen washed-out roads.
The road through Smugglers Notch was high above any flooding, but a tractor-trailer truck got stuck on the narrow, winding road on Saturday, despite all the warning signs, and it snowed on Sunday, when the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department reported that several cars and motorcycles got stuck in the snow. That blocked one possible route for drivers facing washouts and road closures.
Blockaded in Eden
State highways across Lamoille County had to be shut down at various points Friday, said Ernie Patnoe, a general manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation district that includes all of Lamoille and Franklin counties.
Flooding on the two state highways in Eden blocked the easiest routes out of town. “We could not get out of town for quite a while,” said Eden Town Clerk Candy Vear.
The Gihon River swamped Route 100 under nearly 4 feet of water near White Road, Patnoe said; farther north, near the Mount Norris Boy Scout Camp, a 4-foot-diameter culvert well below the road surface failed after something tore it open, causing a washout Friday at about 5 a.m.
“We had to truck a lot of material in; that didn’t reopen until about 5 p.m.” Friday, Patnoe said. The road will still need a permanent fix.
Water was spilled across Route 118 near Belvidere Pond for a time, blocking that route out of Eden. Luckily, that water quickly receded, and only shoulder damage was done to Route 100 near White Road, so the routes reopened around midday Friday.
River rose quickly
The entire Lamoille Valley appeared to have turned into a larger Lake Lamoille, big enough for whitecaps to form as extreme winds pounded the area that day.
Route 15 was under 4 feet of water at the western end of Johnson village and under 2 feet of water at Willow Crossing, Patnoe said.
In Cambridge, Route 15 was underwater on both sides of the wrong-way bridge, and sections of Routes 108 and 109 were both under several feet of water.
“It was deeper than normal. The local foreman said he’d never seen water that deep going across the wrong-way bridge,” Patnoe said, and damage to the shoulder and road had to be fixed after the road reopened Saturday evening.
Over the mountain in Stowe, water racing across Route 108 near Topnotch Resort didn’t cause too much damage, but did close the road.
There was plenty of damage to the shoulders of Route 12 between Elmore and Worcester, but most of that was “all to the right of the white line,” Patnoe said, and the road itself stayed put. Two dozen workers were fixing the shoulders Monday and Tuesday.
On Route 15 in Morrisville, the raging Lamoille caused issues just past Mountain View Snackbar on the way to Wolcott. Traffic was reduced to one lane while workers stabilized the steep bank down to the river.
Tropical Storm Irene showed state highway crews how valuable collaboration and quick responses are in an emergency, Patnoe said, and crews have been pouring in from as far away as Brattleboro and Bennington to help repair roads in Lamoille and Franklin counties.
“We’ve moved resources from all over; we’ve got between 95 and 100 people from all over working here,” he said.
Patnoe said total damage to town and state roads in Franklin and Lamoille counties is already well over seven figures.
“Millions, millions,” he said Tuesday.
Notch road blocked
Route 108 through Smugglers Notch proved perilous for vehicles, those with two wheels and those with 18.
First, on Saturday morning, a tractor-trailer truck got stuck near the top of the Notch, closing the road on the Cambridge side to traffic, and stymying any efforts at using Route 108 as an alternate to otherwise flooded roads.
Patnoe said the state transportation crews already had their hands full, so he wasn’t sure when the truck got stuck or how it got out. He does know it was removed about 90 minutes after getting stuck.
Later, sudden snow squalls stranded numerous cars and some motorcycles at the top. Patnoe said everyone was stuck in the main parking lot, literally weathering out the wait.
The transportation agency was able to get a pickup truck with a plow to make a pass up from the Cambridge side and assure everyone got down safe. The sun came out and helped dry things out after that, and there were no more incidents.
“In this situation, a lot of people got stuck fast, because it was just slushy,” Patnoe said. “If it’s 6 inches or so, we can’t plow it. But if it’s just some slush, we can just go over it with the pickup truck.”
“We have several roads that are impassable and many that are down to one lane,” said Dan Lindley, Morristown’s town administrator.
On Friday morning, portions of Gallup and McKee roads were partially washed out, but were still passable. Part of the southbound lane of Stagecoach Road near Sanctuary Farm had collapsed.
Three roads — Cole, Goeltz and Sterling Valley — remain impassable.
However, Lindley said emergency services are able to reach any location in town.
“Nobody is isolated,” Lindley said. “We can get anywhere we need to go.”
Lindley expressed frustration that at least one driver ran over the “road closed” sign on Goeltz Road, leading other drivers to conclude the road was open when it wasn’t.
Flood waters rose in a hurry in Johnson, as first the Gihon River and then the Lamoille crested, swamping the village.
“The flooding was pretty intense, but we’re digging out,” town administrator Brian Story said Tuesday. It appears the Lamoille River peaked at roughly 17 feet during the day on Friday.
“If that is confirmed, it will be the fourth-highest on record,” Story said. “Higher than Tropical Storm Irene for us.”
Story said he and other town leaders begin to worry about certain areas of the village, such as Sterling Market and high-risk residences nearby, if the Lamoille inches up toward 12 feet. When the river hits 13 feet, it’s officially in flood stage, and it became clear very early Friday that the Lamoille would go well above that mark in Johnson.
“We declared a state of emergency at 8:45 a.m.,” Story said. By 2 p.m., the flooding had leveled off and the town went into recovery mode. The highway crew, utility workers and emergency crews worked through the afternoon and evening and into Saturday to repair damage and ensure everyone was safe.
“We were out of the emergency by that point, though,” Story said.
No one had to be evacuated due to the flooding, Story said, but some people had trouble getting home. Several people were evacuated from a home that caught fire Friday morning, and they spent most of the day at the town offices until Red Cross workers could get to Johnson to help.
“They had a little trouble reaching us,” Story said.
The parking lot and area around Sterling Market, Johnson’s beleaguered grocery store, went underwater early in the day, but store employees and staff from Pomerleau Real Estate did a great job prepping the building for the floodwaters, installing sandbags and floodgates, and the store itself remained fairly dry.
“They did a great job managing it, staying with it, and cleaned up the little bit of water that did get in overnight,” Story said, and the store was open the next day.
Johnson’s sewage treatment plant was surrounded by water, but flooding there has become almost commonplace, and staff members know how to protect the portions of the plant that can’t be submerged.
“We’ve got plenty of experience managing it. We were worried the river might rise high enough to reach the electrical,” Story said, but it didn’t, so the pumps kept working, the floodgates stayed in place, and no untreated water escaped the plant.
While the village was underwater, Johnson’s roads didn’t fare as badly as some in neighboring towns. Rocky Road had significant damage, Story said, and the road is still closed at Scribner Bridge, which spans the Gihon River. Low spots on Hogback Road were also impassable, but no major damage was done there.
Story asks anyone who notices further damage anywhere in town to report it to him, and he hopes Vermont can get federal emergency aid for people whose property was damaged.
In Cambridge, the Nov. 1 flood may be historic, said Dan St. Cyr, the town’s emergency management director.
It appears water levels reached 454.6 feet above sea level, he said. Flood stage for that area is 450 feet above sea level, 453 feet is considered a major flood, and the old high mark was 454.2 feet.
“It was an event unlike any I’ve ever seen in town,” St. Cyr said Tuesday. “Now we’re down to 443 feet, almost normal.”
“I’ve been on the fire department for 34 years, and I’ve never seen (the Lamoille) come up as fast as it did,” he said. “We’ve seen it this high, not for many years though. It was just such a rush of so much water, so fast.”
That much water can be scary, but “we deal with floods on an annual basis in Cambridge, most people know what needs to be done,” he said.
The Lamoille put much of Jeffersonville and Cambridge villages underwater, but the fire department had to evacuate only one building. That was in Cambridge village, where there was 3 feet of water in the empty bottom floor of a building. The couple living upstairs didn’t plan to evacuate, but when the fire department arrived to deal with a loose propane tank, they decided to get out while the getting was good.
“We brought both of them out, with their dog,” St. Cyr said.
Cambridge roads escaped relatively unscathed.
“We had one culvert, and some other minor washouts,” St. Cyr said, but “we were fortunate in that aspect.”
Other than the culvert on River Road, most road damage involved shoulder washouts. That culvert was replaced and River Road was open Monday. About $40,000 in damage was done to Cambridge roads, highway foreman Bill Morey said.
By Saturday, the fire department had switched to helping pump out basements. By Tuesday, the Vermont Agency of Transportation had already repaved the section of Route 15 damaged by running water near the wrong-way bridge.
One road that wasn’t damaged: Pumpkin Harbor Road, where work to raise the road up above regular flood levels began earlier this year. That work is nearly done now, and while the road was under a few inches of water during peak flooding, it could have been under several feet if the road hadn’t been raised.
“Water did cover it, but in normal floods I think it will work pretty good,” Morey said. “I drove through it with the town truck.”
That roadwork will allow emergency vehicles to use the road to reach Bartlett Hill Road.
Three Wolcott roads were hit hard by flash floods along the Wild Branch Brook and its tributaries.
North Wolcott Road, a main commuter route between Orleans County and Morrisville, washed out and collapsed in two spots where the Wild Branch careens into it. The first spot, right at the edge of North Wolcott village, had been filled in by the end of the weekend, but the larger washout at the bottom of Sand Hill had narrowed the road to one lane, and traffic lights have been set up.
Another spot further upstream in Craftsbury had the same type of washout, where the brook ate into the side of the road, causing it and the guardrails there to collapse into the water below.
Road Commissioner Lucien Gravel said the collapse at the bottom of Sand Hill happened Friday around 4 a.m.; by 4 that afternoon, Hardwick Electric had installed a new utility pole in, replacing one felled by the washout, and by 7 p.m. North Wolcott Road reopened to one lane of traffic. Plans for a permanent fix are in the works, and could begin next week.
Brook Road, which intersects North Wolcott Road just outside the village, was completely washed out by a nearby stream that jumped its banks before hitting the Wild Branch. Elmore Pond Road was closed temporarily until a washout was fixed, and reopened Friday night. Gravel hopes to have Brook Road permanently fixed by the weekend, “with a little cooperation from Mother Nature.”
Wolcott’s highway crew had been shrinking since summer, and foreman Skip Patten resigned last week, leaving the department without any employees. But Gravel hired one new employee Thursday and another Friday. They were out doing what cleanup they could after the storm, but private contractors will likely have to make the larger repairs.
Smaller washouts scattered around town are generally passable, but “people need to use a little common sense,” Gravel said. “We’re trying get to the biggest ones first.”
He estimates Wolcott’s road repair costs will easily exceed six figures.
Thirty-eight town roads suffered at least some damage in Hyde Park, according to town administrator Ron Rodjenski.
But by Monday, only Whitcomb Island Road, near the intersection with Barnes Road, was still closed. There, both approaches to the bridge on Whitcomb Island were torn away by rushing water.
“We need to do an inspection of the deck and abutments” to make sure they’re still safe before any repairs begin, Rodjenski said.
Other roads that were closed at least temporarily on Friday but had reopened by Saturday included North Hyde Park, McKinstry Hill and Brook roads.
“Basically, with all of them, it was a brook that jumped its banks or overflowed its culvert,” Rodjenski said.
North Hyde Park Road reopened, but may not be ready for heavy traffic
“Drive slow on all our roads,” Rodjenski cautioned. “There are still rough spots, or soft spots.”
Rodjenski estimated Hyde Park roads had at least $150,000 in damage.
Roads with major damage in Waterville included Lapland, Rogers, Montgomery and Locke roads, Town Clerk Nancy Larose said Tuesday.
Washouts and failed culverts were the main issues, but all roads were at least passable by Tuesday, Larose said. The Church Street bridge is passable at this point but also suffered damage.
“We’ve had some pretty serious road washouts,” said Cathy Mander-Adams, Belvidere’s town clerk. One was on a busy town road, Bog Road, where a culvert washed out and left a giant crevice. Smithville Road also washed out, but that occurred above where anyone is currently living.
Luckily, Bog Road intersects Route 109 in two different spots, Mander-Adams said, so everyone living on that road was able to reach the state highway while the crater was being filled in.
“Several other roads also had significant damage,” Mander-Adams said, and much of Belvidere lost electricity from Friday afternoon until Sunday. The town’s emergency shelter at Belvidere Central School was opened on Saturday night.
“We want people to know it’s available” during times like that, Mander-Adams said. The school didn’t lose power for long, and has a backup generator, so it’s a good spot to find shelter and warmth during times of crisis.
Along with the closure of all state highways leading out of town, several town roads needed major repairs in Eden. A bridge washed out on Blakeville Road, which was still closed on Monday, Town Clerk Candy Vear said. A major washout on Paronto Road left residents there temporarily stranded, and water damaged East Hill Road and a few other roads, Vear said.
A full report of the damage to Elmore’s roads wasn’t available at press time, but Town Clerk Sharon Draper confirmed Tuesday that “Bedell Brook Road got pretty well washed out.”
Josh O’Gorman, Tommy Gardner and Mike Verillo contributed to this report.