Friday, July 12, 2024

City Taking Steps to Protect Water Infrastructure – The Montpelier Bridge

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Photo by John Lazenby.


After Montpelier’s Water Resource Recovery Facility had a brush with disaster during the July 2023 floods, a study is underway to protect it from future flooding. 

With funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the city is conducting a scoping study that will consider and choose from among a variety of options to mitigate future flood damage to this critically important facility.

“It’s a 100-plus million-dollar asset that we’re protecting,” said Joshua Jerome, Montpelier’s community and economic development specialist. 

The wastewater treatment facility narrowly escaped catastrophic inundation damage during the July 2023 flood, with the Dog River rising to “within a matter of an inch … of cresting the existing roadway,” Jerome explained, referring to Dog River Road.

The 500-year floodplain, and to a lesser degree the 100-year floodplain, significantly encroaches onto the facility Jerome said. 

One option might be to elevate Dog River Road so it can serve as a levee against rising floodwaters. While that might sound practical, the scoping study will take a hard look at that option and compare it with others. The study will also consider different components of the wastewater facility and see if different mitigation strategies might be needed for each, Jerome said.

Fun(ds) with FEMA

To pay for the study, the city received funds from the Advance Assistance FEMA Hazard Mitigation grant program. Advance Assistance can pay for hazard-mitigation data collection. 

Once the study yields the needed information, officials plan to put together a hazard mitigation plan and apply for a larger chunk of FEMA funding to pay for the actual project. 

The state covers local match rates for this FEMA program, Jerome said. 

“The project itself could be several million dollars, [but] the municipality, we won’t have to put any funds into it ourselves,” Jerome explained. “So it really does behoove us to go through this funding process to get the capital to protect that asset.”

Study deliverables are due in November, which will give officials time to develop a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program application due in December. After it is reviewed by Vermont Emergency Management, the grant proposal is submitted to FEMA. 

How long the federal agency review will take, Jerome doesn’t know. 

“Once it’s in FEMA’s hands, we don’t really have any idea,” he said. “We don’t have any control over the duration of their review process.” 

A June 26 kickoff meeting included representatives of the consultant engineering firm Stantec and Public Works Project Management Director Corey Line, Jerome told The Bridge.

More Troubled Waters?

According to Jerome, a similar study is underway for the Montpelier water filtration plant, thanks to its relationship to the ailing, city-owned Berlin Pond dam (Dickey Dam). 

Located between the filtration plant and Berlin Pond, which furnishes the city’s drinking water, the old mill dam “no longer maintains the structural integrity that it once did,” Jerome explained. 

According to the Vermont Dam Inventory, a July 27, 2023 inspection rated the dam ‘unsatisfactory,’ while an April 2024 note stated that “a dam safety deficiency is recognized.” 

“We’re going through the exact same scoping study with that asset [water filtration], looking to see if we need to rebuild the dam or remove it,” Jerome said.

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