Bloomberg News

Vermont’s Second-Home Owners Trek to Check on Flooded Property

September 02, 2011

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Julie Gelgauda parked in front of a ravine yesterday and peered almost 20 feet down to where the Rock River had washed away a road near South Newfane, Vermont, in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

She paused a few minutes, then scrambled along a muddy path by the side of the 120-foot (37 meter) gulch, clinging to shrubs for balance. Her destination? Like hundreds of people, Gelgauda, a resident of Wallingford, Connecticut, was trying to reach her vacation cabin. The state, submerged by flooding over the weekend, is bracing for an influx of vacation homeowners anxious to check on cabins, cottages, and ski condominiums.

Vermont is second only to Maine in its percentage of vacation homes, according to the 2010 Census. In Dover, the home of Mount Snow, Vermont’s ski resort closest to Boston and New York, 87 percent of property tax bills go to out-of-state residents, according to the town clerk’s office. Most homes in Dover, population 1,124, are owned by people in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Many have been calling. Michelle Mann, a dispatcher at the Dover Police Department, estimated the force has received 50 calls every hour since Aug. 29. Andrew McLean, the town clerk, said phones “have been ringing. Nonstop.”

Please Stay Home

Citing dangerous roads and limited services, officials who usually promote Vermont as a four-season destination are discouraging tourists and homeowners from visiting during the Labor Day weekend.

Large parts of the Deerfield Valley, home to the Mount Snow Ski Resort owned by Peak Resorts Inc., have been isolated since Irene tore through Wilmington and Dover on Aug. 28. Miles of roads and bridges were washed away by flooding along a pair of rivers. Dozens of mountainside and riverfront houses were destroyed. The Deerfield River topped its banks, killing a 20- year-old woman and inundating downtown Wilmington.

“We will need you to visit, and visit often,” Laura Sibilia, executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter yesterday. “We will need you to bring your friends. We will need you to buy local, dine in our restaurants, and utilize area contractors and service providers.

“But not yet,” she wrote. “As harsh as it may sound, right now we need you to stay where you are.’’

The Dover Board of Selectmen also voted to ask people to stay away. Colby Dix, a member, wrote that it would be “irresponsible to come to the area without absolute need.”

In The Wake

Damage in Dover was mostly confined to roads. Neighboring South Newfane took the storm’s brunt. A well-tended vegetable garden appeared unscathed, tomatoes hanging heavy on the vines. A garage less than 50 feet away was shredded, a basketball hoop hanging askew. The remains of a barn tilted over the river at a 45-degree angle. Day lilies bloomed across the driveway.

A covered bridge was deemed intact, allowing some residents to travel east to Brattleboro, the region’s largest town. To the west, 300-foot stretches of road were washed away completely. The flattened remnants of a house lay in the middle of the river, crushed by a bridge covered by fallen trees. Dozens of power and telephone poles slid down hills, creating obstacles for all-terrain vehicles shuttling food and water to the town.

In neighboring Williamsville, cases of water, granola bars, and garden vegetables were left in front of the town meeting hall, where residents with gardens or electricity are providing meals.

Looting in Reverse

A roadside bench offered a sort of reverse looting, with people leaving items found along the river, such as a child’s chair, antique license plate and camera film.

Gelgauda, director of the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut’s homecare program in New Haven, said she’d bought her cabin along the river about nine months ago. She returned over the washed-out road after a couple of hours, timing her ravine crossing to avoid a swinging backhoe bucket.

Gelgauda said she felt guilty; her cabin’s damage was limited to four inches of water in the basement, as well as a deposit of sand and gravel on her land.

“And I’ve got a new beach,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frank Bass in East Dover, Vermont, at fbass1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at mtannen@bloomberg.net


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