Flood regulation updates move forward

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WILMINGTON — After about three years of consideration, the Planning Commission approved controversial updates to flood regulations. Now, it's up to the Select Board whether to adopt them.

More than a dozen residents showed up to Monday's joint meeting, which was intended for the Select Board to learn more about the proposal.

"Because it is our goal, as the Planning Commission, to vote on this flood and fluvial ordinance," said Cheryl LaFlamme, commission chairwoman. "We, as the Planning Commission, feel strongly that this ordinance is for the greater good of the town."

Cliff Duncan of Wilmington said he is having a difficult time understanding how it will be good for anyone in the proposed "river corridor."

"I don't see that there's any benefit," he said.

Windham Regional Commission Planner Alyssa Sabetto said the goal is to become more resilient. John Broker-Campbell, regional flood manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, called flooding the state's "most common disaster."

"It happens all the time, it happens all over and it happens all year long," he said. "We're seeing an increase in flooding events."

Broker-Campbell showed Federal Emergency Management Agency mapping that Wilmington already uses to designate whether properties are within stream channels, floodways or flood fringes and need special insurance. He said limiting development in the river corridor is meant to "reduce the flashiness of streams," maintain "equilibrium," avoid putting more structures in harm's way and cut down on the expense of rebuilding after flooding.

The corridor would allow Wilmington to get 5 percent more in reimbursement funds for recovery from the state through the Emergency Relief Assistance Fund. The state will use it when considering Act 250 permits regardless of whether Wilmington adopts the ordinance.

Broker-Campbell said there could be some inaccuracies with the mapping, and property owners could contact Zoning Administrator Craig Ohlson or the state if they feel their land was wrongly included in the corridor. Flood insurance will not be mandatory for properties in the corridor.

Development within the river corridor would be limited. In areas along smaller streams with watersheds of 2 square miles or less — not mapped by the Agency of Natural Resources as part of its river corridor delineations — there would be a 50-foot setback from the top of the riverbank for any new construction.

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"Rarely does it impact anything other than a corner of a lot," said LaFlamme.

The ordinance also would require any new residential construction in the floodplain to be 2 feet higher than the base flood elevation, which is a computed measurement based on where waters are expected to rise in a major flooding event that has only a 1 percent chance of being matched or exceeded in intensity in any given year. Planning Commission member Meg Staloff noted that the corridor will not change how development is allowed downtown.

LaFlamme said town listers told her they would not be looking at whether properties are within the floodplain or river corridor when they are appraising.

Eric Silverstein, who owns properties in Wilmington, said he would contact the owners of the 180 parcels who will be affected by the ordinance.

"It's so important," he said, dubbing the corridor "the overreach program."

Some residents questioned why the town would want to restrict development instead of repair or alter infrastructure. D.J. Boyd of Wilmington said he feels that adding rubble to stream beds could prevent flooding.

"If there's no evidence of erosion from [Tropical Storm] Irene, which is the worst thing we've had here, why would we be in this corridor?" said Therese Lounsbury of Wilmington.

Gretchen Havreluk, the town's economic development consultant, asked the commission not to vote on the ordinance.

"We are in an economic crisis here," she said. "We have difficulty enough getting people to move here. We have difficulty enough getting businesses to come here and build. The accuracy of the mapping is not up to par. The onus actually comes back to each one of the property owners and I do not think that's right or fair."

On Monday, four of the five members of the commission voted to send the ordinance to the Select Board for adoption. Commission member Tom Consolino abstained.

The ordinance and maps can be found at wilmingtonvermont.us.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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