Vermonters helping Vermont
Sept. 22, 2011
By Deb Markowitz
In the days since Tropical Storm Irene passed through Vermont — leaving devastation in her wake — we are reminded of what it means to be Vermonters, what makes Vermont the special place it is, and how fortunate we are to call this state our home and our neighbors our friends.
Many of the offices of the Agency of Natural Resources are located at the Waterbury State Office Complex. When the muddy waters of the Winooski River first started rising, most of us were convinced we’d seen it before as we’d already survived spring flooding relatively unscathed. But when the waters rose through the basement and filled the first floor of some of our offices, we began to realize our own failure of imagination. The flood of 1927 should have prepared us to appreciate the awesome destructive power of floods. In November of that year, 1,285 bridges were lost as well as countless numbers of homes and buildings destroyed, and hundreds of miles of roads and railroad tracks washed away. More importantly, the floodwaters claimed 84 lives, including then Vermont Lt Gov. S. Hollister Jackson.
We are lucky to have avoided that level of destruction and loss of life in the most recent flood! Now, as it was then, Vermonters are stepping up to the challenge of rebuilding communities and the lives of those most directly affected. I realize now that our own organization — the Agency of Natural Resources — is a microcosm of the larger community. I am proud of and indebted to those state employees who, when the floodwaters began to rise, struggled to save what they could of both our digital and physical infrastructure. They slogged through mud and muck to save important agency records and valuable equipment. Many of our staff worked long hours responding to emergencies all around the state, despite having just lost their own offices, phones and computers. Wherever I go I hear stories of agency staff who helped Vermont communities. They helped restore damaged sewage treatment facilities, ensured our dams remain safe and strong, helped to rebuild roads, collected hazardous materials and debris, dealt with contaminated drinking water, and helped communities respond to the many changes in our rivers in ways that will keep them safe in the future.
Without a home in Waterbury, the Agency of Natural Resources will look different from what it once was. Although we do not yet know whether we will return to Waterbury or make our home in a new place, we remain committed to our mission to protect, sustain, and enhance Vermont’s natural resources for the benefit of this and future generations. One thing reinforced by Tropical Storm Irene is knowing that we cannot achieve our mission by working alone.
As I listened to the stories of families who lost everything when the flood took their home, or a town clerk who is trying to salvage the historic records of the town that were inundated by floodwaters, or parents and teachers trying to get a school back up and running, I feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the tragedy facing so many Vermonters, and incredibly heartened by the resiliency and generosity of our people. Just as we must work together to overcome the adversity imposed by flooding, so too must we work together to ensure we make the right choices for the future. When we protect our environment and help our ecosystems remain strong, we will be more resilient as a state.
The Agency of Natural Resources staff, working dawn to dusk since the storm, is committed to working with all Vermonters to see this to fruition. We will be a stronger, more beautiful, state accomplishing this effort together.
Deb Markowitz is the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.