WILMINGTON >> Living in a location considered "unfortunate" by Agency of Natural Resources, town officials gathered to get the scoop on potential precautions against future flooding.
"You're not alone and we can figure out ways to address those hazards," said John Broker-Cambell, ANR floodplain manager for southern Vermont, showing a study indicating the future holds a 67 percent increase in heavy precipitation. "We should plan for increased flooding."
Zoning Administrator Craig Ohlson and Planning Commission Chairwoman Wendy Manners attended a meeting in October with officials from the agency. They returned wanting an overview on flood resiliency to be presented in Wilmington, where businesses and residences were left picking up the pieces after Tropical Storm Irene.
"We wanted to learn if there were any alternatives before another Irene to lessen the impact," said Ohlson.
Wilmington is in "good standing" when it comes to the National Flood Insurance Program, Broker-Campbell said Monday while addressing members of the Planning Commission, Development Review Board and Selectboard plus several residents with businesses in town. The voluntary program allows Wilmington residents to purchase flood insurance.
With approximately 2,300 structures in town, 97 are located in what the agency calls the River Corridor and 98 are in the FEMA flood hazard area. Property owners are being left in "a vulnerable spot" as only 36 of the 98 structures have flood insurance, according to Broker-Campbell.
A total of $7.9 million worth or insurance claims were made in Vermont from 1978 to 2010. But in 2011, the year of Irene, that amount went up to $49.2 million.
"I think that opened people's eyes to what we were doing," said Broker-Campbell.
Reimbursement rates could increase if changes are made to local zoning documents. For towns in the National Flood Insurance Program that have adopted the most current Vermont Agency of Transportation standards as well as two emergency preparedness plans, the program will pay out 12.5 percent with towns contributing 17.5 percent. But with those four items plus the adoption of a River Corridor map, Broker-Campbell said the state will "kick in an extra 5 percent" and towns would then be responsible for only 7.5 percent.
"It would be an amendment to your flood hazard regulations," he told the Planning Commission. "We have a couple models out there that would get you there that would talk about limiting development in the River Corridor."
Options are available around how much restriction would come with the map's adoption.
Current regulations in Wilmington comply with FEMA standards. Flood risks are based on whether structures are built above the base flood elevation.
"Over the last five or ten years, we've taken a new approach to managing our rivers and streams," Broker-Campbell said. "So instead of berms and riprap and cleaning them up after the flood, we've taken a different approach and we've mapped what's known as the River Corridor."
Since streams move over time, a map was created to protect areas along the corridor with 50 foot buffers on both sides. If precautions were taken around those areas, Broker-Campbell said former river management would "presumably" be no longer needed.
Wilmington had adopted VTrans' minimum standards to ensure property owners' eligibility to receive the 12.5 percent reimbursement.
"But there's no reason that the town couldn't say we want to adopt a higher standard," he said. "It's a little bit extra work to adopt the standard and for the Highway Department to be putting in large structures."
Manners said she saw opportunities for Wilmington although she was unsure whether the town's future could be changed.
"Maybe it would reduce the damage somewhat but it doesn't feel like there's a whole lot of help for us. We're not building in those river corridors now," she said. "We can't think of a single place. We can make the law that prevents it but we're doing it anyhow. We can try to strap down our debris and maybe we can get the rivers to go better through the culverts."