The Mountain Times

°F Sun, April 20, 2014

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Pittsfield’s continued restoration

PITTSFIELD - When Tropical Storm Irene washed out Routes 100, 107 and Route 73 over Brandon Gap, Pittsfield was one of the most isolated communities in the state. A month and a half later, the roads are passable, tourists are back and the Pittsfield community has grown even tighter.

But life is not quite back to normal.

"Only a few of the roads are fully completed," said Patricia (Patty) Haskins, Pittsfield Town Clerk. "Most still need some work, whether it's a top coat of gravel, ditching, new culverts or paving. But Route 100 officially reopened a week ago Saturday, and it's been really nice to see people coming through."

A temporary bridge has been put up near the town garage on Route 100 and there is a section near the Pittsfield-Stockbridge town line where only one lane is open with a traffic light.

"It is fixed to be passable, but not much beyond that," said Angelique Lee, who started a Pittsfield newsletter after the storm to aggregate local information. "Still, despite the interruptions, most of the time there is good flow and we have seen nice traffic through town. I think we are all pleased to see the 'Road Closed' sign removed."

Route 107 to Bethel, however, is not projected to open for through traffic until December and even then it will only be blacktop gravel, not paved.

But passable roads means tourists can once again visit.

"This storm put our town on the map," said Lee Ann Isaacson, operations manager at Amee Lodge and Farm, the Original General Store and Riverside Farm Wedding Venue. "We have seen folks with lots of different license plates passing through town as well as folks from different countries. It think they are mostly here to enjoy the lovely area we live in. Everyone seems empathetic and sympathetic of our cause." All but one wedding at the Amee Farm has been rescheduled, she said, adding that they will be busy through Thanksgiving and into December.

Pittsfield residents are glad to have their roads open and visitors back, but residents still know there is much still to be done before many residents and the local economy fully recover.

Doug Mianulli, Pittsfield town constable and bartender at Clear River Tavern, noted one irony. "What we lost in leaf peepers," he said, "we gained in destruction seekers. But I hate seeing people take pictures of others' misfortune, so we put a donation pot in front of the houses that washed away so folks can at least help those in the most need."

Mianulli, who has been a resident of Pittsfield for 36 years, doesn't think the town will be back to normal for years.

"Some people lost their homes and have no insurance. It's very unsettling. The roads are mostly fixed, but we are not back to normal. Some folks are just now feeling emotions. More than one person has come into the tavern recently for a 'Doug Hug,'" he said. "It's like an aftershock. Some are just now showing signs of the stress… It's been a long few weeks coming out of this mess and it will take years for a lot of the repairs. Some things, like the river, will never be the same."

As constable, Mianulli was busy helping people get out of their houses during the flood. By the time he went to check on his own house, the driveway was flooded and the water was still rising.

"I saw people who had already lost their homes out there doing whatever they could to save mine," he recalled, reflecting on the actions that has brought the community together in the aftermath of the storm. "There were so many act of courage. Lots of heroes."

FEMA FATIGUE

Hastings confirmed that "eight families are permanently displaced, their houses are gone… completely washed away." Most of those families, she said, are still in temporary locations, living with friends or family or in second homes generously offered to those in need.

Pittsfield residents who suffered only minimal damages have mostly gone back to work and are dealing with additional cleanup repairs and replacements as they can, said Lee. "Now that people are going back to their normal work, fatigue with FEMA is really setting in.  They are tired of the process and the appeals. There are a lot of complicated floodplain regulations and it's difficult to get through."

Lee thinks lots of people are left scratching their heads. "If you have silt, sand, gravel, boulders and debris all over your yard and FEMA does not pay for it, it's hard to deal with. Often times this work requires heavy machinery and a lot of money," she said, adding, "it costs a lot to remove eight inches of sand covering your yard, replenish the topsoil and replant grass. Trees will also suffocate if their trunk structure is not exposed. I know this doesn't seem immediately important, but trees help shore up the river banks and if they die it will cause greater damage down the road."


Lee added that all the heavy machinery around the area has been working non-stop and the people who own the equipment have been generous.

 

Pittfield sign


COMMUNITY SUPPORT

In news media reports across the state, Pittsfield has been touted for its community response, noted Mianulli, adding that the town was hailed as one of the "best towns to be in after the flood because we all came together. We're a tight town, you know, no one goes cold or hungry."

"The generosity of spirit was amazing," Isaacson added. "I've never seen anything like it. Maybe it was partly because we were an island and had no choice, but whatever the reasons, if someone needed something they asked and if someone had something they shared it. This is why we moved back to Vermont. It's the small town connections that are so important."

What also stood out were the spontaneous actions of individuals to get things done.

"Individual people stepped up to do things," Lee explained. "No one had to ask permission, they just took initiatives to get things done. And people weren't afraid to make mistakes, either. They did their best and if it didn't work, it was ok. But a lot got done because folks didn't wait. Things happened that wouldn't have otherwise. Things like rationing gas so that there would be enough available for those that needed it most."

The town also played a vital role in the community response.

"I also have to praise Patty Haskins. She was so important to this community," Lee said. "She kept us organized and notified the state about our damages, completing all the proper paperwork so that we could get assistance immediately. She put in an incredible amount of hours getting this all in order… The community has benefited hugely from her hard work and cool head."

In fact, Pittsfield was the first town to file a claim declaring itself an emergency, which was a feat in itself, according to Lee. "The Verizon tower went down," she recalled, "so most locals were cut off from communication, but someone from the wedding party that was stuck in Pittsfield with us, had an iPad that they could tether to their AT&T iPhone to get Internet. So we were able to submit the forms that way."

While devastating for many, the recovery from the storm has been a true community effort that has had its benefits.

"As horrible as this devastation was, the whole town really pulled together," Haskins said. "We've always had good community values, but this really tightened them and I think it will last for a long time."

Tagged: Pittsfield, Tropical Storm Irene