Just over three months after Vermont’s capital city was overwhelmed by severe flooding, questions of what ‘recovery’ means for downtown Montpelier, in the context of widespread social and environmental issues, still linger. The questions being asked there are similar to those asked here after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and similar to those being asked throughout much of Vermont.



At a series of public forums held between August 10 and September 7 across various locations of Montpelier, residents lamented the loss of downtown businesses and discussed how they might be restored through financial support and other means.

But the forums also functioned as a platform for voicing concerns about some of the more complex social-environmental issues at the heart of a downtown rebuild. 

Residents questioned whether water sheds could be stewarded differently going forward. They called climate change a “chaotic situation” unfolding in the present. And they asked that rebuild efforts tackle other long-standing social problems, like workforce shortages, the crisis of housing unavailability, food insecurity and others. 

The forums were organized by Montpelier Alive, the Montpelier Foundation and the City of Montpelier. Some of the forums drew in around 500 people. 

Community members and experts spoke frequently about central Vermont flooding as a chronic phenomenon. They voiced a persistent concern about how current recovery efforts may not be suitable for mitigating damage from future flooding.  




Reverend Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Church of Montpelier opened the first forum with a story about clearing out debris from the church basement, only to find church blueprints dating back to 1928, when the church was being rebuilt after major flooding in the previous year. She called the moment of finding these plans “serendipitous” – “that it took another flood almost 100 years later to uncover them.”

Community members consistently called for the establishment of a new leadership structure to drive recovery work. At the third and final forum, moderator Paul Costello announced that Montpelier Alive, the Montpelier Foundation and the City of Montpelier have created one – the Montpelier Commission for Recovery and Resilience. 

The city of Montpelier wrote on their website that that commission is needed because they “cannot carry the costs or leadership of the whole recovery effort, or the long-term efforts to expand the resilience of the city in the face of future floods and other climate change impacts.”

The commission is currently accepting applications and nominations for commissioners, as communities in Montpelier and central Vermont continue to grapple with what recovery entails.