BENNINGTON >> The months following Tropical Storm Irene saw Vermonters unite under a single mantra, which represented the best parts of Vermont's spirit and sense of community — "I am Vermont Strong."
Rutland residents Eric Mallette and Lyz Tomsuden created the now iconic image — a black silhouette of the state over green with the words "I am Vermont Strong," emblazoned in white — with the, "simple intention of producing good energies out of the disaster," according to a 2013 report issued by the state on Irene Recovery.
Their image became a symbol of the recovery effort after the Legislature signed a bill to allow the display of commemorative Vermont Strong license plates on the front of private and commercial vehicles, with the proceeds from sales going toward disaster recovery. Initially, the Legislature planned to allow the plates to be displayed for two years.
That was extended to June 2016, and then, just before that expiration date, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order to allow the plates to be displayed indefinitely, until another governor or the Legislature re-visits the issue.
"These plates remind us of how our state pulled together in the wake of Irene to rebuild stronger than the storm found us," said Shumlin. "The plate has become a symbol of pride for many Vermonters, myself included, and I want ensure people can continue to display them."
Shumlin also invoked the phrase in his January 2012 State of the State address, saying, "Today, I report to you on the state of the greatest state in the nation, one that has demonstrated over the course of the past year what it means to be united as one community to overcome tragedy. In the wake of a deep recession, two spring storms, and a tropical storm that devastated our infrastructure and exacted an unimaginable toll on the lives of thousands of Vermonters, I can tell you without reservation or exaggeration — the state of our state is strong. Vermont strong."
Rob Ide, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, said all 42,000 of the plates that were manufactured were sold, raising more than $1 million. For each Vermont Strong plate sold, $5 went to the DMV, $2 went to the Vermont Food Bank, and $18 went to the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. He said there is no intention to produce any more of the plates.
Elizabeth Eddy, who is the community services and outreach manager at BROC — The Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council — which managed the Good Night Irene Long Term Recovery Committee in Bennington County, said that funding for recovery relief came from a wide variety of sources, including state and federal funds, along with donations from organizations and private citizens alike.
"This was a sprawling project," she said, noting that disaster recovery work for flooding is still ongoing throughout the state. "It never ends."
Matt Proft, who worked with homeowners in Bennington, North Bennington, Woodford, and Arlington as a case manager under the Vermont Long Term Recovery Grant, said that while he saw large amounts of property destruction, he also saw neighbors stepping up to help neighbors while state and federal aid was still pending.
"A lot of them had already done so much on their own," he said.
A year after Irene, Proft was interviewed by the Banner, where he highlighted the ongoing recovery effort.
"I think the anniversary is a time to not so much celebrate as it is to remember, and also to redouble the effort to get Vermont back to its previous condition," he said.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.