Should Vermonters Move to Higher Ground?

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Vermont Montpelier Langdon St 08

View of the North Branch River as it Flows Through Downtown Montpelier, Vermont

Without a doubt, Hurricane Irene was a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe. Yet, that does not mean we need to take drastic measures to prevent the kind of destruction we saw with Irene. What kind of drastic measures? How about this suggestion to relocate Vermont towns to higher ground:

For more than a decade, development policy in Vermont has focused on building in already-developed village and town centers, leaving surrounding forests and farmland open. But there’s a problem, pointed up by the remnants of Hurricane Irene: Most village and town centers are in flood plains.

Officials discussed the feasibility of shifting development policy, including the possibility of moving business centers to higher elevations or encouraging growth there, but concluded the state should stick with current practices for several reasons . . .

Vermont’s cities and towns, some of them more than two centuries old, have grown up on riverbanks because rivers — and roads built along their banks through mountain gaps — have been the state’s historic transportation corridors. It would be prohibitively expensive, for instance, to move downtown Montpelier to the hillside park that overlooks the city while turning its downtown into park land.

“We have so much infrastructure and development in these places, relocating whole towns isn’t really a solution,” Miller said. “And if you put stuff on hillsides, you create other hydraulic problems.”

And it’s not just “infrastructure” to worry about, but also all of the history the buildings themselves represent. To preserve history, each building would have to be moved and that it wouldn’t take long to realize that isn’t feasible. Wrecking balls would be the only solution and that would be more devastating than any hurricane.

Also, while the article alludes to the importance of rivers from a transportation perspective, it does not delve into the lure of rivers from a psychological perspective–folks simply love to be near the roar of rivers.

To see this effect, just look at our the results of our poll which asks “which state capitol is your favorite?” While not scientific, the results clearly suggest a strong affinity for Montpelier, Vermont. Our guess as to why . . . because Montpelier (as shown in the picture above) is the most intimate of the three with its rivers (Winooski and North Branch rivers).

After Montpelier, Augusta, Maine has the potential to be closer to the Kennebec River, but the downtown is currently built with its back to the river. Concord, New Hampshire has the least potential since I-93 separates the downtown from the Merrimack River.

Overall, there are numerous natural disasters that can negatively affect the towns and villages of Northern New England, but that doesn’t mean we should “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Besides, in today’s world the greatest threats seem to be man-made, a la, vinyl-siding, demolitions, etc.

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