Finally Headed for Vermont

As many of you know, I’ve been working in the Denver area for the last year, requiring that I spend the vast majority of my time here.  Being away from our home in Vermont this week has been especially painful, as I have followed all the events in Woodstock by video and digital communication with Miss Gracie, who is marooned there with no water and spotty electricity.   Today, I’m finally headed to Vermont for a few days to see the damage for myself and lend a hand where I can.  Over the Labor Day weekend, I’ll be reporting on the progress of recovery from the damage caused by Irene in Woodstock and the surrounding area.  Read the rest of this entry

This evening, I spoke to an individual very familiar with the Woodstock municipal water system failure and efforts to bring the system back online. When asked about status, this individual stated that extensive work is being done to the system that provides water to the Town of Woodstock, which was severely damaged during the floods on Sunday.  As I talked about this afternoon, there are two issues here…first, the system must be brought up to full operations as rapidly as possible; second, the Town of Woodstock needs to take definitive steps to make sure this kind of failure never happens again.

My conversation this evening, while acknowledging the second issue, appropriately focused on the first:  getting the municipal water system up and running as soon as physically possible.  Here’s the latest:

  • Woodstock Aqueduct Company representatives are engaged and working to solve the immediate problem.
  • As discussed earlier today, there are two pumps in the main system.  The new information tonight is that one is seriously damaged and must be replaced.  The other suffered a major component failure when the water system was breached, and that component should be in Woodstock tomorrow.  (We’ll talk about why Woodstock Aqueduct doesn’t keep spare components in inventory later.)

Here are the steps that must be completed before the water system is capable of normal operations:

  • The component on the functional pump must be installed.  The best case scenario for that accomplishment is late tomorrow afternoon or early Thursday morning.
  • Once the component is installed, the water pump will be put into service for testing, then pressurizing the water system.
  • Once the system is pressurized, different Town neighborhoods will be isolated by closing valves along the system to determine leaks in the lines.
  • Each line leak will be repaired and then put back into service.

My source was cautiously optimistic that progress was being made, but was unable to give me a definitive day when the system will be fully functional.  We should know a lot more in the next 24 to 36 hours.  this small planet will be monitoring this situation closely and reporting new information just as soon as we learn of it.

In the meantime, we’ve learned that there is a general number now established by the Town for non-emergency needs.  Everyone is encouraged to call 457-2337 to ask for assistance.

Sources of information:

Town of Woodstock: Non-Emergencies – 457-2337
Woodstock Early Bird: http://woodstockearlyworm.wordpress.com/
Woodstock VT Flood Response on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002854462350
Vermont Flooding 2011 on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002854462350#!/pages/Vermont-Flooding-2011/212455332141871

 

 

 

This morning, after having power on for about 12 hours in parts of Woodstock, it went off again about 8:30.  Water service to most of Woodstock has been off since Sunday afternoon and continues to be off.  The situation, appearing to be looking up even yesterday, appears to be deteriorating under the shear weight of the disaster.  Here’s the latest that I’m hearing:

  • Volunteers have been organized to haul river water in pickup trucks to village houses so they can manually flush their toilets.
  • Water is available from hoses in a couple of places, Woodstock High School and Woodstock Elementary.
  • Porta-Potties are now set on the Green for public use.
  • Phil Swanson, the Town Manager, and our State Rep. Allison Clarkson, have set up an emergency center of sorts at a table at the Elementary School.  They are taking reports there and trying to give out information.
  • The Town Hall has no phones, which doesn’t seem to matter since those there don’t seem to have much information.
  • The Town of Woodstock website has zero current information, no emergency numbers.
  • I talked to Bernie Sanders’ office in Burlington, which is being overwhelmed, and talked to a very helpful senior staffer who was unaware of the seriousness of our situation and pledged to bring it to the Senator’s attention.  I expect Bernie will be pushing every button he can find to make something happen.

Here is what’s most disturbing to me, though.  I’ve been digging into how our water system is run (having never paid attention to it before).  Our municipal water system is not the responsibility of the Town, but of a private company, Woodstock Aqueduct Company, which has been around for years.  The company has two addresses; one in Gillingham’s General Store on Elm Street, and one on Cox District Rd. in West Woodstock.  The President is publicly listed as Jireh Billings, one of Gillingham’s Store owners.  The vice president is listed as Eric Wegner.  Woodstock Aqueduct Company has no website, and 2 telephone numbers, (802) 457-3040, and (802) 457-4497.  Neither phone is being answered, and doesn’t even have voice mail, and we know that Gillingham’s has been closed since the flood on Sunday.

My wife talked to the town manager, Phil Swanson, a short time ago, and he reported that apparently the town water system has 2 water pumps.  During the flood, a water line (or lines) were breached and the water system drained.  By the time they got to the water plant and shut the pumps off, they were damaged and unable to operate.  One new pump was ordered yesterday, and won’t be delivered until tomorrow.  After it is installed, work will then begin pressure testing to find out where the leaks are so they can be repaired.  Phil could give no estimate about how long this whole process will take.

Here is our risk, which I believe is unacceptable.  We have an entire town at the mercy of a private, for-profit company of unknown size, capitalization, or ability to handle a large emergency such as we’re experiencing.  The management of that company providing this public service is unavailable, and not communicating in the slightest to its customers.  Their telephones are not being answered, there’s not even voicemail or answering service, and the townspeople don’t even know where to go for help.  There are no progress reports, no timelines, no official plan that we are aware of.  In this day in age of widely distributed social media and electronic communication, there is no excuse for operating like it’s the 1920’s, which, at best is a huge inconvenience, at worst a threat to public health.

I believe the town should take charge of the water system, and get it functioning as quickly as possible to protect the public health.  After the Town is returned to some sort of normalcy, I then believe the Selectboard should undertake 2 inititatives: first, to review and quickly established a modern emergency response system that includes emergency communications capability and coordination.  Second, they need to review our municipal water plan and how it is managed.  I believe they should consider moving the municipal water function under Town management to insure against the uncertainly that we are experiencing today.  Short of that, there should at least be minimum financial, staffing, and emergency standards set for any private company that manages the water system.  Those standards would include an emergency plan and communications capability, and a 24/7 liaison with the town to coordinate repairs and information.

It’s been really great how everyone in Woodstock is pulling together in this challenging time.  Neighbors are helping neighbors, and our town representatives are doing all they can in trying circumstances.  However, this incident has highlighted huge shortcomings in our ability to take care of ourselves, and that needs to get fixed.

Note:  Anyone who has further information or corrections, please let us know so we have the latest, and most accurate available.

 

 

 

 

We’ve seen all kinds of photos and videos of the disaster in Vermont that has been the flooding caused by the remnants of Hurricane Irene this weekend.  I have found one, though, taken by Pamela Mintzer, of the area on what’s left of Rt. 4 between Woodstock and Rutland, just east of Rutland.  The power of Mother Nature is unquestionable and awesome.  Have a look:

Rt. 4, Mendon, Vermont

Here is a photo from the Vermont Standard (who’s building was completely destroyed in the flood) of my neighbor’s house on the Ottauquechee River in Woodstock. The white house behind and above is mine. My neighbors were evacuated, but their house, though flooded, held.

Updated: Lights Go Out in Vermont

Power Outages as of 3:30 pm 8/29/2011

UPDATE: As of this hour, power has been restored in Woodstock, even though CVPS is still reporting total outage.  I’m sure many others are still in the dark, especially with night coming on.  Still no word on water.

Yesterday, as the floods ravaged southern Vermont, many homes amazingly still had power.  That was true, also, for most of our hometown, Woodstock.  Even though the water was off, at least the house had electricity, internet and cable.  Well, that all changed at 12:30 pm, when the entire town went black.  CVPS is now reporting over 2,300 homes in the Town of Woodstock with power outages and the Vermont outage map looks like a 6 year old with the chicken pox.  The disturbing thing is that CVPS is reporting ZERO crews assigned to Woodstock.  Hopefully, that’s not true and their just so busy they haven’t updated the website.

Julia at Woodstock Early Bird is also reporting some useful information: porta-potties are being set up on the Woodstock Green for public use and water is available at the Woodstock Inn and the West Woodstock fire department on Hwy 4.  She is also reporting that the private company who now owns our water system (ain’t privatization great?) is working on fixing the water main.  The Town’s hands are tied since our water system is now owned by a for-profit company.

The national news media has now picked up on the growing story in Vermont, with video (mostly shot by Vermonters) shown on a pretty regular basis on the cable networks.

We’ll keep following.

 

 

We have been following the raging floods that the remnants of Hurricane Irene brought to Vermont yesterday even as the national media have been virtually non-existent and continuing to report about storm damage (or not) in and around the major metropolitan areas on the east coast.  My hometown, Woodstock, has been in the center of the flooding, but the entire southern half of the state has been inundated, with roads and bridges washed away, hundreds of houses and

Flooded Ottaquechee. My Barn in the Distance. Photo by Lora Gerard Wise

businesses flooded, and now, believe it or not, water shortages.  The amazing thing about this tragedy is that, outside of a few local outlets, the media is virtually non-existent in this area, and the information we are getting about the damage is from facebook, a great local blog, and word of mouth.  The blog, the Woodstock Early Bird has been diligently covering the story, even talking to local authorities to keep the information flowing.  The facebook group that was formed is call Vermont Flooding 2011, that now has dozens of photos, videos, and personal reports about the devastation.

The charm of northern New England is also one of its challenges; the region is heavily populated in small villages and towns along the rivers and streams, when those rivers overun their banks, which is very rare, the toll can be devastating.  We are witnessing that devastation right now in real time.  The Ottauquechee River, just below our house, on the west end of the Green, experienced rapidly rising waters yesterday morning that became a raging torrent about mid-day.  We believe the river crested at around 18 feet above normal.

Dead River Propane, a business on the river, just upstream of the village, was flooded and around 200 propane tanks, some huge, were swept into the river releasing propane as they floated through the village.  The tanks piled up in Quechee Gorge, and small canyon just east of Woodstock.  The propane release was so large that police closed the bridge over the gorge fearing an explosion.  The house below ours, right on the river, was evacuated as its basement was flooded and foundation threatened.  The house was built around 1830.  Another house, one that we actually rented for a while in the center of the village, was also severely flooded.

Vermont Road Closures

The story is the same all over Vermont.  The local television station is now reporting that the Vermont State Trasnporation Agency is reporting that 260 roads have been washed out, not counting local streets and roads. The agency is estimating there are 300 road closures, double that of the closures from this year’s spring floods, which were, before yesterday, historic.

If there is anything good here, it’s that Vermonters are strong, independent folk.  They are self reliant, and support one another.  We will recover.  this small planet will continue to follow this story as it unfolds.

 

 

 

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