TOWNSHEND -- After being closed for more than seven months due to damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene, a main through road has reopened to residents.
Town officials and residents gathered atop the $500,000 project Saturday to celebrate the reopening of Townshend Dam Road, which connects Route 30 to State Forest Road and West Hill Road
The road was washed out on Aug. 28 when Fair Brook, which flows underneath the road, rapidly increased in volume from heavy rainfall.
State Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, who lives along West Hill Road, said that he was on his way to pick up the morning newspapers the morning Irene hit. Just before driving onto Townshend Dam Road, Galbraith said he got out of his car to look at the culvert that directed the small brook through the road's hillside.
"I could hear this eerie, grinding sound," he said. "It was boulders rubbing against each other in the water.
The massive amount of water was moving large boulders toward the mouth of the culvert and the water level rose quicker than Galbraith said he's ever seen.
Within minutes the hillside of the road gave way to the water's force and a 20-foot wide gap was cut out from it.
The stream washed everything away, including the 16-foot high, 12-foot wide culvert, leaving the more than 50 residents stranded.
"If you live on West Hill you think about roads all the time," Galbraith said. "But never this road because it's paved.
Townshend Emergency Manager David Dezendorf said road crews and rescue personnel worked tirelessly to make sure that each of the residents along State Forest and West Hill roads were safe.
"It stranded everyone on the other side," Dezendorf said. "If there was a fire the only road we could use was State Forest Road, which is difficult to traverse in mud season."
It also provided much longer, strenuous commutes for each of the residents. Instead of the one mile drive from the beginning of Townshend Dam Road to Route 30, people would have to drive at least five miles along the rough, dirt road.
"It was a slow five miles," Galbraith said.
He added it would often take an additional 45 minutes to get from Route 30 to his home each way.
Dezendorf, who is also a member of the town Selectboard, said that getting Townshend Dam Road reopened became a high priority once recovery planning from the storm began.
After seeking guidance and approval from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers, which owns the land the road is on, the board hired Beck Engineering of Bondville to design the project and White Mountain Precast of Henniker, N.H., to build all the cement pieces for the new culvert.
Once the pieces were delivered, Bazin Brothers of Westminster was hired to do the site work and install the new culvert.
The road still needs to be paved and grasses and vegetation planted along the hillsides to prevent erosion, Dezendorf said, but the biggest problem remaining may be funding.
Originally, FEMA stated to the board that the federal agency would front about 80 percent of the costs to rebuild the road and culvert, but recently officials told members of the board that they didn't agree with the scope of the project.
"They told us that the Vermont Agency of Natural resources isn't being consistent with their recommendations," Dezendorf told the Reformer. "And because of that, FEMA stated we ‘overbuilt' the culvert. They apparently were only going to pay to build it back to spec, (the way the road was before the storm.)"
Dezendorf said ultimately what matters is that the road is reopened and if there is an emergency, rescue vehicles and personnel can get there safely.
"I've got to make sure I'm protecting life safety," he said. "If we as a town have to tighten our belts to pay for the project, we will."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.