In The Hills Of Vermont, A Town Reconnects

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(Host) Up and down the state, Tropical Storm Irene flooding has torn apart Vermont communities, in many cases overwhelming strained town governments.

But as VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, towns such as Granville have begun to regain some sense of control – and some sense of place – before winter sets in.

(Carapezza) This sprawling, remote town has long been without a true center.

(Sargeant) "We are lacking a community hub."

(Carapezza) Cheryl Sargeant is chairwoman of Granville’s select board. She says it’s been ten years since Granville’s general store closed; three years since it shut down its one-room school house. In July, Granville’s post office appeared on a list of 14 Vermont villages and postal codes under review that could close.

So when Irene inundated streams that flow south from the Granville Gulf two weeks ago, there was no real central command. When things got tough, Sargeant called Vermont Emergency Management.

(Sargeant) "And I said, ‘What do I do now?’ And they said, ‘Wait. You’ve got 4 to 6 more inches of rain coming and when it’s over we’ll be in touch.’"

(Carapezza) As Sargeant and the rest of the town waited, Irene flooded the banks of the Alder Meadow Brook. It knocked out power and telephone service, devastating homes and wiping out all roads in and out of town except for one.

One road – Buffalo Hill Road – is beyond repair, and it won’t reopen this year.

(Sargeant) "It’s over a million dollars to fix it."

(Carapezza) Sargeant and other town leaders have been so busy that these days they carry the office with them. Sargeant calls her manila folder, which has been perpetually tucked beneath her arm in Irene’s aftermath, her disaster response file.

(Sargeant) "It’s a hodgepodge of phone numbers; contact people; who did what; who was in charge of getting dumpsters; and how to get rid of mold. I’ve got maps of how to get out of town."

(Carapezza) She’s not alone. Browse local government minutes from across the flood zone, and you’ll find similar stories of true grit. Cities and towns affected by Irene are slowly finding answers to a number of persistent, disaster-related questions.

Yes, Grafton now knows, a permit is in fact required to alter ground contours in the state’s newly formed flood zone. No, FEMA documentation hasn’t yet been processed in Ripton. But yes, Shrewsbury has finally restored electricity except to its most remote locations.

In tiny mountain towns, Cheryl Sargeant says keeping track of all the details and paperwork can be daunting. She’s mostly concerned about the seven Granville homeowners who are still stranded.

(Caroline_Sargeant) "I don’t know when or if I can get back in my home for a while. It might not be this winter."

(Carapezza) Caroline Sargeant is one of them. Irene devastated her gray and white trailer. While she waits for a damage estimate, she’s living with her daughter Nancy.

(Caroline_Sargeant) "I think it’s putting a burden on to her, but she won’t say anything."

(Carapezza) Now, Caroline Sargeant (no relation to the select board chair) is among the town’s residents who are looking forward to Granville’s new general store.

Inside, Cheryl Sargeant’s son, Dan, is stocking the shelves with beer ahead of the store’s grand opening.

(Dan_Sargeant) "I think that it’s going to be a sign that times are turning for us. We have a chance to turn the town back around. We’re here to stay, and I hope the rest of the locals are too."

The store opens this week, and right next to the bread and milk, shoppers will find applications for FEMA grants.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.

Public Post: Check back here for the latest select board minutes from Granville.

While there, let us know how your town is recovering in Irene’s aftermath.



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