The Waitsfield Select Board learned this week about two badly damaged areas of the town where almost immediate earth and river channel work are needed to prevent more damage at current river flows, not to mention future high water events.


Bridge Street property owners in Waitsfield can’t know what to do until the town and the state come to terms with what—if anything—should be done to prevent the Mad River from destroying historic Bridge Street again.


The historic settlement patterns of Bridge Street in Waitsfield, Moretown Village, Waterbury Village, Hancock, Rochester and all of Vermont’s flood-ravaged towns have long been recognized as historically significant neighborhoods. These neighborhoods and buildings represent our past—they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


What then should be done when a flood of 500-year proportions happens twice in 13 years? The flood of 1998, which devastated Warren and Waitsfield and Lincoln and Bristol was said to be a 500-year flood. Yet stream flows during that event were significantly lower than those registered at the USGS gauge in Moretown on August 28 when flows rivaled those of the flood of 1927.


How can towns preserve their heritage and how can property owners protect their investments if 500-year floods are the “new normal”? And what happens downstream if the people upstream dredge and armor and alter the course of the river? Simply dredging rivers will not fix the issue of flooding.


Whose job does it become to fix the course of a river gone mad that has jumped its banks and threatened a dozen homes? The homeowners? Or the town that will lose the property tax revenue when those homes fall in the river during the next high water event?


As the recovery efforts continue, it is apparent that community-wide (or watershed-wide) dialog is needed to address ongoing safety concerns as well as the future of living next to a flood-prone river.