WATERBURY, Vermont — The first new building at the still under-reconstruction Vermont State office complex in Waterbury is now occupied by state employees and more are due back before the end of the year. Down Main Street, a new town office building is under construction.
Those projects and more are the legacy of Tropical Storm Irene four years later.
In some cases backroads are being built with bigger culverts or bridges. Deals have been made to buy scores of structures that were in the way of Irene's floodwaters; in some cases they have been removed and turned into areas that can be flooded the next time the waters rise without significant damage to property.
Resiliency has become the watchword of state and local planners across Vermont who are working to take into account future flooding when making decisions today.
"We've delivered on the promise of rebuilding this state better than the way Irene found us, every Vermonter has been involved," Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday after touring the nearly completed work at the state office complex, the largest single building project in state government history at $130 million.
The first state workers have returned to the Waterbury complex, about 15 who are working in the just-completed building that includes the new heating plant. The first regular workers are due to return in December. Even though the complex is being rebuilt on the site that was hit by Irene, the new location has been designed to withstand another, more destructive, storm.
Since Irene, Vermont Agency of Transportation engineers have changed the way they do business, taking into account future floods, which are thought to be more likely in an era of climate change, said Transportation Secretary Sue Minter.
"Our transportation engineers are fully embracing it. That was not the case before in the way that it is now," Minter said.
Planners across Vermont are also looking beyond the repairs.
In December 2013, the nonprofit Montpelier-based Institute for Sustainable Communities published 23 recommendations after working with groups across the state on the best way to plan for the next disaster.
On Thursday the group released its Resilient Vermont Progress Report. It found significant progress in six of the areas, mostly focused on the regional cooperation.
"We're really, I think, pretty happy with the progress that's been made," said Program Director Debra Perry.
BY THE NUMBERS
Total cost to date of Irene recovery: Approximately $850 million.
Towns that had enough damage to qualify for federal assistance: 225 of 251.
Miles of roadways that received damage: about 500..
State bridges repaired or replaced: 34.
Properties damaged: more than 7,200.
Properties submitted for FEMA buyout and removal program: 137
Buyouts approved: 122.