OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
September 16, 2015
Selectboard members Lewis Sumner and Doug Grob attended this 6:00 p.m. Windham Regional Commission Hazard Mitigation planning session at the Halifax Town Offices. Edee Edwards was unable to attend. The Planning Commission lacked a quorum at the gathering. The meeting was conducted by WRC’s Alyssa Sabetto and hosted by Halifax Emergency Management Director John LaFlamme. Sirean LaFlamme, Bob Leete, Stephan Chait, Marilyn Allen, Jesse Ferland, Wayne Courser, Brad Rafus, Everett Wilson, and Robbin Gabriel were also present.
John LaFlamme opened the meeting with an explanation of its purpose. We are working on a town Hazard Mitigation plan, he said. The State of Vermont has changed their method of reimbursement for reconstruction after a disaster. Previously, FEMA paid 75%, the State 12.5%, and the town was responsible for 12.5%. After Irene, this was changed to a tier structure; FEMA still pays 75%, but now the State’s starting point for reimbursement is 7.5%, with the town contributing the balance. WRC’s Alyssa Sabetto, who is compiling the necessary information and will be writing the Plan, said Halifax must meet four criteria to be eligible for 12.5% in state funds. The town must have a Local Emergency Operations Plan (LEOP) in place, be a compliant member of the National Flood Insurance Program, have a Hazard Mitigation Plan submitted to the State, and have adopted the most recent Town Road and Bridge Standards. Halifax has met all these requirements with the exception of submitting a Hazard Mitigation plan. Once the Plan has been created and approved, the town will again be eligible for 12.5% reimbursement. Further, if river corridor protections are included in the town’s flood plain ordinance, the State will pay 17.5%, and the town’s portion will be 7.5%. The zoning regulations update now in progress incorporates the most recent state river corridor requirements. As LaFlamme turned the meeting over to Sabetto, he drew attention to coffee and donuts provided for refreshment.
In the event of a disaster, Sabetto advised, projects previously noted in a town’s Hazard Mitigation are of first priority in FEMA reimbursement considerations. Also, identifying the town’s vulnerabilities gives means of creating a list of projects that can be undertaken to reduce the impact of future disasters. Sabetto will write a draft of the plan based on information gathered at tonight’s meeting. That draft will go out to participants for review, comment, and revision as needed, after which it will be submitted to the state, and finally to FEMA, for approval. The plan will become effective once it has been deemed compliant by FEMA; the process takes six months to one year. An example of an approved Hazard Mitigation plan (for Town of Athens) can be found online at http://windhamregional.org/images/docs/towns/Athens/athens_hazmitplan_2015-07-16.pdf.
The balance of the meeting was spent filling out a hazards ranking table based on input from participants, reviewing and updating a mitigation actions table compiled by the town in 2011, and mapping vulnerable areas on a town map. Sabetto projected the hazards ranking table on-screen and used participants’ responses to create a hazard score for a long list of possible hazardous events, including severe weather (thunderstorms, lightning, high winds, hail, flooding), power failure, fluvial erosion, wildfire, extreme cold/snow/ice, structure fire, water supply contamination, ice jams, extreme heat, and invasive species infestation. Some interesting pieces of history came to light during discussion. Wayne Courser and Lewis Sumner recalled the wildfire on Ballou Mountain in 1951, which consumed some three hundred acres, and Sumner mentioned a small plane crash in Halifax in the 1950s.
Once the ranking table had been completed, potential disaster events most likely to occur in the town were examined to determine whether any form of advance preparation could be undertaken to decrease impacts and damage. All of the possibilities discussed could be included in the plan, said Sabetto, but the document would be several hundred pages long and take months to prepare. The Plan must include a description of possible mitigation actions for each listed hazard, and the cost of those preventative measures should weigh favorably against the possible costs of actual event damage. One mitigation suggestion—burying power lines to reduce ice storm damage—was rejected as impractical because Halifax has a large percentage of power lines strung over private property rather than following public roads. Various ideas were proposed related to educating the public on safety measures, including proper use of generators during power outages, woodstove/chimney cleaning and maintenance, the importance of fire extinguishers, and correct wood ash disposal. Action will be taken to educate the general populace about subscribing to and using the new VT-Alert system. Ultimately, discussion focused on mitigation measures for flooding and fluvial erosion, primarily as it might effect town highways. Road Commissioner Brad Rafus provided numerous details regarding work needed, rough cost estimates, and general timelines. Culvert upgrades or replacement on Stark Mountain, Hubbard Hill, and Winchester Roads had been proposed during the earlier discussion in 2011; some of this work has been done, and some in still pending, awaiting approved grants or sufficient monies in the town budget. Rafus recently obtained a one-time permission to cut up trees which have fallen into Green River, to help decrease the chance of ice jams. No machinery is permitted in the river, and no trees can be removed, but tree trunks in the stream bed may be sawn into ten-to-twelve foot lengths. Participants talked about additional armoring and guardrails on Green River Road, and marked a large town map to show areas that were flooded during Irene, along with road and bridge damage from that storm. The too-narrow bridge at the Branch Road intersection with Route 112 and the recently reclassified Sumner Farm Road bridge were noted as candidates for upgrade. Sabetto said Evan Fitzgerald’s Green River Corridor assessment contained a number of good mitigation suggestions which could be incorporated into the town’s Hazard Plan. She also encouraged people to send her any pictures they have of past storm damage in the town.
Sabetto requested a copy of the town’s 411 and a list of total FEMA reimbursements to the town for past disasters. Participants recalled the April 2007 flood that caused road damage and a landslide from the town landfill into the North River, flooding in October 2005 that didn’t qualify for FEMA monies but received state emergency funding through VTrans, the ice storm of December 12, 2008, which did $360,000 in damage, and, of course, Irene in 2011. Sabetto recommended training in flood plain administration for the Zoning Administrator, and adding language to flood plain regulations governing fuel tank tie-downs. Sirean LaFlamme said the Planning Commission is working on clarifying wording of town permit applications to help applicants better understand the requirements. There is a five-year time frame for completion of mitigation projects detailed in the hazard plan. Sabetto remarked that Halifax appears to be particularly vulnerable in terms of roadways; many are in river corridors, others on steep inclines. The town has 54 miles of dirt road and 13 miles of paved road.
Sabetto will write a first draft of the Hazard Plan from information gathered during this meeting, and will send copies to participants.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:45 p.m.