The town of Middlebury received six inches of rain in a two-and-a-half hour period on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 3, an occurrence which Emmalee Cherington, the Town of Middlebury’s director of public works planning, referred to as a “1000-year event.”
“It was the type of thing that no one expected,” said Barbara Harding, owner of Otter Creek Used Books, about the early August flash flood in Middlebury.
The flooding in Middlebury and the greater Addison County area was part of a more extensive period of heavy rainfall throughout the state of Vermont over the summer. Flooding on July 9 caused multiple landslides, leading to home damage in towns like Ripton, Vt., along with damage to infrastructure such as culverts and roadways.
On July 14, East Middlebury experienced the same heavy rainfall, contributing to the intensity of the flooding the area experienced a month later. Both North Branch Road and Dragon Brook Road, in addition to the river corridor itself, experienced rain flows of around five to six inches spread out in a 24-hour period, leaving the ground fully saturated.
“Our wastewater plant got hit hard in the early part of the week of July 10,” Cherington said, resulting in numerous waste issues.
This July rainstorm caused statewide flooding, and the Middlebury and Vergennes Fire Departments’ Technical Rescue Teams were deployed to carry out rescues at the time. Chief of the Middlebury Fire Department David Shaw and his team conducted swift-water rescues in Montpelier and Berlin. The team also carried out flood water, trailer park, automobile and home rescues.
The Middlebury Police Department, which also oversees Emergency Management for the town, regularly monitors weather conditions and observes areas with vulnerabilities to flooding. When a flood hazard is increasing, the Police Department notifies the Fire Department to assemble their Technical Rescue Team, according to Police Chief and Emergency Management Directory Tom Hanley. Hanley added that in this and similar flooding cases, the police station acts as a temporary shelter.
The periodic rain the Middlebury area received in the next few weeks primed the land for a flooding event on the evening of Aug. 3.
The rainstorm that caused this August flooding was heavily localized to Addison County, resulting in significant flooding in Middlebury and surrounding areas that the town continues to deal with over a month later.
“We’re aware of the saturation point of the ground and we were fully aware of the inability of local waterways to handle any more water,” Shaw said.
In addition to the limited storage capacity of the tributaries and waterways, the area had already lost much of its river corridor protection and stabilization measures, according to Cherington. Before the August flooding emergency, Cherington was working on the restabilization of the banks and protection of property owners following the heavy rainfall in July, as well as the reconstruction of sections of roadway, ditches and culverts.
The heavy rain flows caused Seymour Street to flood, which backed up into Lucius Shaw Lane and in turn flooded the Middlebury Police Station.
“We have a big truck that has radio telemetry in it and we moved our operations to this truck,” Hanley said. The team operated out of this truck until they were able to get back into the Police Station about eight days later, Hanley added.
The Middlebury Police Department worked with Vermont Emergency Management to arrange for the delivery of 34,000 pounds of drinking water to a number of people in East Middlebury who were without running water for about a week and a half following the flood.
The town’s main pump station, which pumps waste back up to the wastewater plant, was also flooded during the Aug. 3 rainstorm. “The pumps aren’t designed to go underwater, so it totally fried the pumps and the motors,” Cherington said. Her team is now working to get the system back online.
The Middlebury Fire Department conducted several home and vehicle rescues as a result of the August flooding event. While the team has not carried out any rescues since then, Shaw mentioned that they are now aware of shortcomings in department resources. “We made the determination that we need a different type of boat,” he said.
The Fire Department applied for and received a grant to purchase a different type of boat for future rescues and flood events.
Christopher Taft, district transportation administrator of the District Maintenance and Fleet Division at the Vermont Agency of Transportation stated in an email to The Campus that the Agency of Transportation’s geotechnical team is currently working on designing slope repairs following erosion on Vermont Route 125. “[We] will be working with our design teams on replacing/upgrading the structure in the years to come,” Taft added.
Patrick Ross, a hydraulics engineer at the Agency of Transportation, wrote in an email to The Campus that the agency’s focus on resilient infrastructure following previous flooding events lessened the impact of heavy rain flow events such as these recent floods. Ross noted how this summer Vermont flooding did not bring with it as extensive damage to roadway infrastructure such as bridges, culverts and roadway embankments as was seen following Hurricane Irene in 2011. “This is in part because we went back and fixed substandard flood recovery sites after Tropical Storm Irene and in part due to our continued efforts to build more resilient infrastructure,” he said.
Despite this infrastructure work, many Marble Works businesses were impacted by the flooding in August because of their proximity to Otter Creek.
Harding noted that Otter Creek Used Books was affected minimally, stating that the carpet flooding was the primary damage. The Marble Works parking lot flooded due to the insufficient storage capacity of the drains to store such a large volume of rain. This water came over the curbing and flowed underneath the gap in the door to Otter Creek Used Books and down the business’s hallway.
“I was fortunate that [the water] didn’t spread, it just stayed in the hallway and I am grateful that it didn’t come into the green room where the cash register is,” Harding said.
While Harding did lose some books placed outside, including those that were on sale and two small bookcases that she had put outside to air out, she said she was thankful the damage wasn’t worse, especially after reading about the flooding in Montpelier.
Another community member affected by the flood was Elise Haydon, executive director of the Yellow House Community, a nonprofit supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Middlebury. These individuals are able to reside in the business’s two properties, the Yellow House and the Carriage Barn, which are located at the base of Chipman Hill on Seminary Street. Haydon received a call on the night of Aug. 3 that the basement of the Carriage Barn had been flooded. She and her colleagues later found out that the hydrostatic pressure that built up underneath the building raised the concrete slab of the basement, allowing water to enter.
“The aftermath has meant we have to move our residents out of the Carriage Barn and into the Yellow House,” she noted. She and others at the Yellow House Community are working to get the Carriage Barn back to functioning. While the building now has power and a working fire alarm system, it does not yet have heating or cooling restored.
“So, you know, it’s been more than a month since that event and we still don’t have a functioning building,” Haydon said. She has been working to apply for grants in order to fund some of the Yellow House Community’s recovery process.
Addison County does not qualify for individual FEMA assistance at this time, according to Haydon. Individuals and businesses who have experienced damage have access to a number of smaller grants and funds, such as 211.org and United Way of Vermont.
The Vermont Community Foundation is currently accepting donations to its Flood Response and Recovery Fund to support those in Vermont who have been affected by the flood and assist with recovery efforts.
Both Harding and Haydon noted how the Middlebury community has come together for the recovery process.
Harding saw support from those who came into Otter Creek Used Books the day after to ask questions and show support — “I think we’re just really lucky that this is a grand community that would support the businesses,” she said.
“We got to feel that support from our community and to learn that we are resilient and we can rebuild,” Haydon added.
Emily Hogan '24 (she/her) is a Local Editor.
She is studying Environmental Policy with a minor in Math. In addition to writing and editing for the Campus, she also dances with the On Tap dance troupe and serves on the Environmental Council. She has previously worked with the Sustainability Solutions Lab at Middlebury.