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Agencies discuss long-term flood resiliency

On Wednesday, October 24, Moretown Town Hall filled up with people from down the road and people from as far away as Washington, DC, and North Carolina as representatives from local and national organizations—including Friends of the Mad River, the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—came together to talk about long-term flood resiliency from a watershed perspective.

The Mad River Valley was one of few regions selected to participate in the EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance (SGIA) Program, a solicitation open to local, regional and state governments that want to incorporate smart growth techniques in their future development.

According to EPA representative Noelle McKay, The Valley was selected for the competitive program partly because of its community-centered response to Tropical Storm Irene and partly because Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) director Joshua Schwartz answered an email at 6:30 a.m., “and I thought anyone that answers email that early must be a good person to work with,” McKay only partially joked.

While SGIA provides the opportunity for regional planners to learn from national experts, when it comes to The Valley’s unique watershed, “you’re the experts,” McKay said at the start of the meeting. “What does it mean to build back stronger, for you?”

In response, some residents requested information about projects they—as homeowners—could do to help manage stormwater runoff on their own personal property.

Ultimately, one of the most important things that Valley residents need to recognize is that developing land at higher elevations can adversely affect those living in the flood plain, as stormwater is less likely to be absorbed into the ground and will instead travel downhill, gathering speed and strength.

On the whole, residents agreed that The Valley needs to replace individual town plans with a comprehensive plan for the whole watershed, as rivers don’t recognize municipal boundaries.

“We do have a plan, but people don’t know about it,” Friends of the Mad River director Caitrin Noel said later, in a small group workshop, suggesting that maybe it’s time to add an active management component to that plan.

Wednesday’s meeting was just the start of what is likely to be a series of discussions surrounding long-term resiliency planning, and—while largely theoretical—it brought about a number of astute observations and ideas.

“If you look around this room, there are a lot of innovative, thoughtful community members here,” McKay said.

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