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On August 28, 2011 Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont causing millions of dollars worth of devastation and destruction in it's wake. The Valley Reporter has been documenting Irene's effects from the torrential flooding to the rebuilding of communities and lives. Irene may have caused massive destruction but it also brought communities together in a way that no other event could. From the crushing flood waters we all found that We Are Vermont Strong.
When Tropical Storm Irene came through last year, the floods washed out 2,600 feet of streambank at Simplicity Farm, which is located just north of North Fayston Road on Route 100 in Waitsfield. Damage costs were estimated at upwards of $150,000.
Now, a year later, “We’ve got half the streambank repaired, but the problem is we’re running out of money,” Simplicity Farm’s owner Doug Turner said.
In addition to repairing the streambank, the farm has had to pay $19,000 to remove storm-strewn gravel, sand, trees and trash from its fields and to treat and replace cows that became infected by bacteria after eating silt-covered grass. The storm also destroyed 8.5 acres of corn, 128 round bales of hay, yards of electric fencing and gallons of milk that couldn’t be refrigerated during power outages.
While Simplicity Farm has received money from aid organizations such as the Valley Community Fund, the Vermont Community Foundation, the Northeast Organic Farming Association, and more, to pay for these repairs, it will be awhile before their farm can be restored to its original state. “We have to keep working on it,” Turner said. “[We need] another $50,000 to $70,000 so we can finish protecting our property.”
That being said, “The grass is growing well,” Turner said, “and the cows are relatively healthy, I just don’t have enough of them.” In other words, “We’re holding in there.”
Valley Mead Farm, located just north of Tremblay Road on Route 100 in Waitsfield, suffered up to $80,000 worth of damage due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene, as water channeled through fields and flattened 25 to 30 acres of corn on land that the farm’s owner, Don Spaulding, rents to Jack DeFreest.
While the farm has qualified for up to $31,000 of federal aid from the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency to help repair the damage, “how can you replace topsoil?” Spaulding asks, explaining that the farm is making the best it can of its now gravel-filled fields.
After cleaning up the ditches, “I don’t have [the farm] back to where it was originally,” Spaulding said, “but I’ve got it so that it’s growing a decent crop.”
John DiCarlo and Pam Becker were slated to close on the sale of their house in Moretown Village on Monday, August 29, the day after Tropical Storm Irene ripped out their foundation, tore off the back of their house, destroyed all their belongings and turned their lives upside-down.
DiCarlo and Becker were recently married and had planned to sell the house John had long lived in in Moretown so that they could build something together.
With the remarkable equanimity of a longtime practitioner and teacher of Tai Chi, John said that Irene’s destruction of their house gave them a chance to build a new house together.
“One of the reasons we stayed and decided to rebuild here was because of the outpouring of support from the community,” he said.
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, as he and his wife considered whether to rebuild and what to do, his wife suggested they could rebuild and rid the house of the negative energy of the storm by burning a sage stick.
“But then after so many people did so much to help us put the house back together she decided she didn’t want to get rid of all the good energy that had come into the house,” he said.
The foundation of their house was damaged during the storm and has been rebuilt to allow water to flow through it. Still visible from the newly constructed basement are walls from the old foundation.
“This house was not the original house to sit on this foundation. The house that first sat on the old foundation was swept away during the 1927 flood and it took out the bridge that used to lead to Grandma’s, north of the Moretown Town Hall,” DiCarlo said.
His house was brought to the site from elsewhere in Moretown Village and never fit properly on the foundation. Now it does.
“One hundred percent of what we had on the first floor was taken away. The decisions about whether to keep mementos from our parents and other stuff were all made for us. We had to embrace that freedom and the opening up it created for us. It’s a brand new house in an old shell and I think we were meant to be here,” he said.
When floodwaters rose five feet in just 40 minutes on the afternoon of Tropical Storm Irene, “I grabbed a toothbrush and an overnight bag and some dog food and left,” Megan Schultz said.
Shultz, who runs a small wedding planning business, had been watching the water from Doctor’s Brook rise from the garage apartment and office she rents from her parents at their house on Main Street in the center of Moretown.
Doctor’s Brook is a small, seemingly unassuming stream that runs beside the Shultz residence before it meets up with the Mad River across the road. But on the day of the storm, the brook came up over its banks, nearly filling the bottom floors of the Schultz’ house and the garage.
And then, “as quick as it came in, it was gone,” Shultz said. But everything was destroyed. The inside of the house was like “the inside of a snow globe,” Shultz said, explaining that it looked as if someone had picked it up and shaken it, ripping shelves off walls and flinging furniture across rooms.
Thankfully for the Shultzes—and for many whose homes were badly damaged due to flooding from Tropical Storm Irene—Moretown residents, friends and strangers started showing up the very next day to help clean up.
“My sister and I joked for years that it was going to take a village to clean out our parents’ house,” Shultz said, and in the end, it did. But in witnessing the way the community came together after the flood, Shultz has come to see the storm as “a really sick and twisted blessing in disguise,” she said. “And we needed the renovation.”
One year after the flood, the house and garage are still a work in progress, but Shultz and her family are happy to have some semblance of order. Now, “at least around here, you have to really look for the damage,” Shultz said, explaining that she and her neighbors were able to bounce back relatively quickly from the storm, compared to some other towns that didn’t have the same resources or community support.
“It’s very humbling to be part of this community,” Sam Gulisano said in the parking lot of the blue building that helps anchor Bridge Street in Waitsfield.
The building was severely damaged during Tropical Storm Irene and Sam’s son Jason’s restaurant that was in the building, The Green Cup, was destroyed. The brick sidewalk that Sam and Jason had built in front of the building was destroyed and the garden patio behind the restaurant was swept away.
One tenant of the building, Liz Lovely’s retail sweet shop, was destroyed before it opened, and Cheap Thrills thrift shop was destroyed.
“It would have been easier to give it back to the bank. My son Jason took a real emotional hit. He lost his business. But we live here. We live upstairs. The outpouring of support from the community the next day was incredible. Hundreds of people showed up here to help. It says a lot about the community, but we still didn’t know if we could pull it off. It’s an old building. The foundation was part plywood,” Sam Gulisano said.
They have pulled it off though. There’s a new foundation and several new businesses including The Sweet Spot and Scouts Honor Ice Cream, The Green Closet and the soon-to-open Peasant Restaurant. And it’s still a family affair. Sam and his wife Barbra’s daughter, Lisa Curtis, owns and operates The Sweet Spot, a bakery and coffee shop, and the husband of their daughter Sarina, John Vitko, is the ice cream maker.
Their new restaurant tenant, Chris Alberti, is a former New York stock trader turned vintner and sous chef for Jason at The Green Cup. His new restaurant, featuring simple Italian fare as well as wines he makes, will be served at the newly refurbished restaurant when it opens this month. The back room of the restaurant features a gorgeous new bar. The front room is painted in vibrant colors and Alberti is a consummate host, proffering samples of his award-winning wines and food.
His operation is also a family affair. He will be joined by his wife Mary Ellen and several of their five children in running the restaurant.
Elsewhere on Bridge Street, the rebuilding is nearing completion, with the exception of the Birke Photography Studio. The Birke Photography Studio, one of Waitsfield’s oldest buildings, was lifted off its foundation and left leaning against the blue building during the flood.
The driveway of All Things Bright and Beautiful as well as their gardens and foundation were swept away. MINT Restaurant was wrecked and the building that housed Lost and Found was inundated with water. Despite their flood insurance claim being denied, MINT owners Savitri Bhagavati and Iliyan Deskov, with the local support and volunteers, re-opened this spring. All Things Bright and Beautiful has a driveway, a foundation and beautiful gardens again. Quench Artspace has opened up where Lost and Found used to be. The Birke Photography Building was dismantled and removed from the foundation. Today lawn chairs sit on the foundation facing the river.