'A different kind of planning process'

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LONDONDERRY -- Two FEMA buyouts will leave the town with property that can only be used in specific ways, meant to mitigate the risk of future flooding.

A six-day workshop through a Marlboro College program enabled a group of participants to come up with three viable options.

"It was a very different kind of planning process than what is typical," said Program Director for Center of Creative Solutions Dolores Root. "I think the amount of engagement with the community was really different than most planning projects are run."

On Aug. 27, the Center for Creative Solutions issued a press release to inform the public of the three options that were established for the two properties located at the intersection of Route 11 and 100 at the entrance to Londonderry's commercial district. The workshop had been held earlier in the month.

The properties were destroyed in flooding that occurring during Tropical Storm Irene. Executive Director of Windham Regional Commission Chris Campany had told workshop participants that the town had been a victim of separate but similar disasters in 1973 and 1976.

"The West River that is held back by the Williams dam spilled over the banks of the mill pond inundating the two properties and then continued down the main street," stated the press release.

One option that came as a result of the workshop would be to remove the dam "so that the river's natural channel can return and consequently the millpond above the dam will drain."

"Fairly rapidly thereafter, bulrushes and other aquatic plants beneficial to water quality and habitat will return and fill in the land once occupied by the millpond," the press release stated. "Sill and sediment built up over years in the millpond will need to be dredged prior to removing the dam."

The dam was described as an iconic feature of the town. Discussion of removing it had provided participants with a roadblock.

"We had to step back and sort of get out of what we were doing and engage in this conversation," said Root. "Why was it important or why it could be important to remove?"

According to state River Management Engineer Todd Menees, dam removal would be the best solution for flood control as well as the health of the river. It was proposed that granite stones could replace the dam.

The second option is a partial and phased removal of the dam that would implement short-term strategies to realize long-term flood mitigation.

"Recognizing that natural systems respond to a disturbance with a variety of solutions, not just one, this phased approach permits studying the impact of breaching the dam on the river channel, wildlife and habitat," the press release stated.

The last approach involves building naturalized berms on the properties, to be used for filling with water during flooding.

One other option that had been discussed would be for the town to "make modest programmatic improvements to the sites and not address the issue of flood mitigation."

Trevor Bickford, Georgianne Mora and Tom Platt, all residents of Londonderry, participated in the workshop along with artists, planners, environmental designers, engineers, historians, landscape designers and several students.

"We focused on the process, not the product," said Root. "We kept people moving around to work with the different concepts and kept switching teams. It was really a wonderful learning experience."

Londonderry residents were "really committed to the future of their town... and were able to provide all types of insight."

"We really had ideas and sensibilities that really reflected the community, that really informed the work we did," Root said.

A task group was said to have formed to evaluate the report and options that the workshop delivered. The report will be produced in upcoming weeks.

"I really think it's about widening the conversation within the community," said Root. "And having more people understand what the different opportunities are."

Members of the Londonderry Planning Commission had shown interest throughout the workshop as well as members of the town's Conservation Commission.

According to the press release, over 50 people attended the last day of the workshop, which invited community members to weigh in on the process and give insight into the storm that destroyed the properties.

The last thing that Root and other participants want is for their final report to sit on shelf. Gaining the support of the community has helped ensure that won't happen.

"(There is) a critical mass (of people) to carry forth some of the ideas and further the discussion," Root said. "It's a long process for these buyouts and so is developing any one of these ideas."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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