Islands Concerned Floods Will Keep Tourists Away

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(Host) Floodwaters in the Champlain Valley need to recede before officials can fully assess the amount of damage that’s been done.

But in the Champlain Islands, people are already aware of the costs, as they predict that the summer tourist season will be delayed by two to three weeks.

VPR’s Patti Daniels reports:

(Daniels) Rain and fog hang low over North Hero Village as traffic passes on Route 2. Senator Dick Mazza looks out over a swollen bay of Lake Champlain:

(Mazza) "I probably represent more miles of shoreline than any other senator in Vermont, I’m sure, because I come all the way down from Isle La Motte to Colchester."

(Daniels)  And as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, he’s aware that the flood is taking a toll on the state budget:

(Mazza) "Our infrastructure is being damaged considerably. We don’t know to what extent. We came out of a tough winter, with a $5 million shortfall from a tough winter. Now we’re coming into a spring where we’re clocking up millions of dollars a week right now."

(Daniels)  But Mazza says he’s also concerned about the financial impact on businesses in the Islands, because many of them rely on summer tourism. Ruth Wallman directs the director of the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce:

(Wallman) "It’s the time when most of the tourist-related businesses are getting ready for the big season, which usually starts around Memorial Day. So, just about everyone is open, but some of them are going to have a problem delivering services. The marinas, as an example – it’s hard to get the docks out when you can’t see the shore."

(Daniels)  Wallman is encouraging businesses to take photos of their flood damage, and keep track of cancelled reservations and diminished receipts. There’s uncertainty if FEMA or the Small Business Administration will be able to help with business losses, but Representative Mitzi Johnson says documentation will be key if loans or recovery money become available.

Johnson also wants to get the word out that that tourists are welcome and needed in the Islands this season:

(Johnson) "A lot of places are open for business, if you have any concerns just call and ask. And I think people should not hesitate to come and visit and see what the lake looks like now. And look at the power of what water can do. It’s humbling, for sure."

(Daniels) And putting a wry spin on things, Johnson says visitors can kayak and fish in more places than ever before.

For VPR news, I’m Patti Daniels in North Hero.

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