Wednesday August 31, 2011

DOVER -- More than 200 people packed the Dover Elementary School gym Tuesday afternoon for an informational meeting that provided updates on the flood recovery effort throughout the Deerfield Valley area.

Most of those attending the meeting were from Wilmington and Dover, but there also were a few residents and business owners from Whitingham, Halifax, Marlboro, Newfane and Searsburg.

"All of you outlander people, don't leave; we want to know how you got here," joked Laura Sibilia, the Mount Snow Chamber of Commerce executive director who helped organized the meeting.

On a more serious note, she said, "We are aware that a major concern of people here is how do we get out and how do we get in."

"Our interest right now is the infrastructure," State Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, said in agreement. "We're looking at all the highway infrastructure and where people can drive."

Hartwell said he spoke with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about how to administer federal disaster aid, and the severity of transportation problems in southern Vermont.

"There's a lot of resources out there right now working on a lot of damage," he said.

Town officials said a military engineer detachment has been deployed with equipment specially designed to repair roads quickly.

"The first priority will be Ames Hill Road," said Tom Consolino, chairman of the Wilmington Selectboard. "If we can repair Ames Hill Road we have a way into Brattleboro."

He also said he is optimistic about having sewer service and water available in Wilmington by Tuesday afternoon, an announcement that drew cheers and applause from many in the audience.

Finally, Consolino said the town hopes to vacate the Twin Valley High School as soon as possible. The school is being used as an emergency management operations center since the town's fire station, police station and town offices were all damaged in the flood.

"We lost most of our infrastructure in Wilmington," he said.

Trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be arriving soon to serve as the new command center for the recovery effort. The school is also being used as an emergency shelter, serving about 150 meals a day to temporarily homeless residents, emergency personnel and volunteers. Some residents are still staying at the shelter overnight, but officials expect all of those people will be able to return to their homes soon.

All of the schools in the Twin Valley District -- in Wilmington and Whitingham -- are scheduled to open next Tuesday, depending on road conditions and if it's safe to travel, said Twin Valley School Board Chairman Seth Boyd.

Dover Elementary School will open Wednesday morning, but there will be no bus service on the first day, said Dover School Board member Lori O'Hern.

Dover officials acknowledged that the damage to their town was not as severe as in Wilmington. Almost every road is passable, although some have only one lane, said Fire Chief Rich Werner. There is still no power for a lot of people in East Dover, which he said is a concern, and some of the gas stations in town are starting to run low on fuel.

However, Linda Holland, who chairs the Dover Selectboard, said highway crews have been working day and night to get roads open.

"It's been fantastic, everyone is pulling together," she said.