Proposed flood regulations not so welcome

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WILMINGTON — Updated flood and fluvial erosion hazard regulations have worried some members of the community.

"What some people are claiming is this will negatively affect their land value," said Zoning Administrator Craig Ohlson, who does not believe there is any validity in that line of thinking. "The idea of it is so we are more flood resilient and we will be less vulnerable, by theory, when there is another event. And there will be another event."

Ohlson counted about 25 attendees of last week's Wilmington Planning Commission meeting, where the regulations were discussed in a hearing. He said the major additions involve the proposed "river corridor" and requiring all new construction be 2 feet above the base flood elevation, which is a computed measurement based on where waters are expected to rise in a major flood that would potentially happen every 100 years.

During Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011, Wilmington was one of the Vermont communities devastated by flooding. Destroyed by the waters downtown, Dot's of Wilmington became a symbol of rebuilding efforts statewide.

The regulations in general are intended to "avoid and minimize the loss of life and property, the disruption of commerce, the impairment of the tax base, and the extraordinary public expenditures and demands on public services that result from flooding related inundation and erosion." They're also meant to "ensure that the selection, design, creation, and use of development in flood hazard areas is accomplished in a manner that minimizes or eliminates the potential for flood and loss or damage to life and property in a flood hazard area and does not impair stream equilibrium, floodplain services or the river corridor."

Making the town, residents and businesses eligible for federal flood insurance, disaster recovery money and hazard mitigation funds is another piece. Different areas of the community are labeled on maps for their potential to flood.

Adam Grinold, who owns Wahoo's Eatery on Whites Road, said a lot of people are concerned. His property would be included in the new river corridor and subject to new restrictions.

"For me, it's really based on the fact that I haven't heard the commission articulate the exact benefits to the community from these," he said.

His question is: Why would the town want to establish additional restrictions on parcels in town that are not required by the state or federal government?

"So far, I haven't heard a specific answer to that," Grinold said. "I don't think one really exists."

He also questions whether the corridor designation would provide for more financial benefits not already offered under the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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Grinold said about 500 affected property owners had not received notification of last week's hearing.

"The only time you get to have a say is if you go to the hearing," he said. "I think they're going to have start over again and notify everyone that the town plans to render their property and renotice the hearing and do it over again."

The regulations will come up again at another meeting at 4 p.m. Monday at the town office. Ohlson said mapping and frequently asked questions about the river corridor can be found at wilmingtonvermont.us.

"But I think the way the Planning Commission feels at this point and time is, as a whole, they want to move forward," he said, anticipating that the Select Board will then decide whether to adopt the regulations.

Commission members have been working on the updates for "at least a couple of years on and off," Ohlson said. "It's definitely been on the agendas for a long time."

Concerns had come up at annual Town Meeting in March. And they were brought up at last week's hearing.

"I don't think anyone left not being heard because everyone was heard," Ohlson said. "Everyone was able to voice their questions/concerns."

The commission said river corridors "encompass the area of land surrounding a river that provides for the natural 'meandering' area of the river, the mapped floodplain and the river functions necessary to maintain the least amount of erosion, thereby minimizing erosion hazards." They are delineated by calculations using "field and map based measurements," and serve to inform the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in regulating, planning and conservation efforts.

"Lands within and immediately abutting a river corridor are at higher risk of erosion from the river," the commission said. "Giving rivers room to move is critical to avoid the need for stream armoring and berming that so often leads to increases in erosion upstream and downstream and adversely affects public safety, landowners, and river ecosystems."

The commission said flood insurance will not be required for homes within the corridor but it is strongly recommended.

"If your house is not in a FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area but is within the state-delineated river corridor, you can buy a policy for a much lower cost (i.e., rated as though your house were in any location outside the flood hazard area)," the commission said, noting the insurance also will cover fluvial erosion damage. "Towns have become more aware of just how hazardous fluvial erosion is, and many are taking steps to protect future development by regulating the river corridor in addition to the FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area. The state is encouraging towns to do so by offering an enhanced state funding match through the Emergency Relief Assistance Fund, which assists towns after federally declared disaster events."

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


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