Montpelier suffered some of the worst damage in Vermont from July’s floods, and since then residents, along with local and state officials, have talked of little else but what comes next.

On Thursday, during yet another stormy Vermont evening, they gathered at Montpelier High School for the last of three community forums aimed at reaching a consensus on how to move forward.

The first two forums were brainstorming sessions about the city’s priorities. The third was about making the many visions a reality. The city’s partners, Montpelier Alive and the Montpelier Foundation, announced that they had raised just over $2 million to help the city’s recovery.

“Tonight is the night to line up and gear up to build some work towards action,” said  Paul Costello, the former executive director of the Vermont Council On Rural Development.

Participants tossed around more than 15 ideas, including

  • “Declare a climate emergency to elevate the dialogue about climate change.” 
  • “Improve defenses against flooding of the wastewater treatment facility.” 
  • “Improve Wrightsville Dam.” 
  • “Reinvision Montpelier’s downtown.” 

And giving the Winooski River a bigger watershed. “Looking at the confluence downstream, using elevation change, embracing the river, and celebrating it.” 

Many agreed to prioritize creation of a regional flood prevention commission, as well as to invest in a more adaptive downtown.

“We can make a big difference around the world, and certainly around the country if we can come up with an idea which is compelling and moves people’s context of flooding forward,” said Gail Johnson.

The group sees the new commission as a kind of steering committee that can realize big ideas with the city’s support, as well as be a mouthpiece for residents.

But, noted one participant, the scope of the commission’s work still needs to be determined. “It’s very important that the council itself not be beholden to the city to say that we have to manage up to the city’s expectations.” 

Jared Duvall noted that residents will also need the political backing of local and state officials to capitalize on federal funding opportunities. “We know that there will be additional need, and the quantification and task force exercise is a key systemic undercurrent of that.” 

Some of the participants in Thursday’s forum said that state lawmakers should call a special session to ensure recovery grants and other funds continue to flow.