Irene Reveals Vermont’s Infrastructure Vulnerabilities

by Robert Maynard 

Vermont Digger published an article titled “ANR report examines state’s environmental resilience to natural disaster”, which reviews a just published report by Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources.  The report itself is titled “Resilience: A Report on the Health of Vermont’s Environment,” and it “looks into the greatest threats facing the state’s environment and how resilient the various aspects are to another disaster on the scale of Tropical Storm Irene.”  An interesting finding, as quoted in Vermont Digger was: After analyzing 8,000 of Vermont’s 23,000 miles of rivers and streams, ANR determined that almost 75 percent of those river miles are considered “unstable,” meaning they “are more likely to produce destructive floodwaters that result in property loss, create public safety risks, and harm downstream river and lake ecosystems.”

In the section entitled “Building Resilient Infrastructure”, the report notes the following “Trends in the Condition of Infrastructure”:

Across Vermont, water and waste water systems in river valley communities remain vulnerable to severe flooding.  Consider the following:

    • Many pipes are buried in riverbeds, where they could be exposed and damaged if stream banks experience significant erosion or channels shift laterally.
    • Other pipes are affixed to structures such as bridges that can be vulnerable to flooding, especially when the structures are undersized.
    • Wells, water distribution systems, and wastewater treatment facilities are often situated directly on floodplains, sometimes perilously close to riverbanks, making them vulnerable to inundation and erosion hazards.

These vulnerabilities are critical, but an even bigger problem for Vermont’s infrastructure is its deteriorating condition as a result of aging. The state has 1,367 public water systems, and nearly 90 percent of these serve fewer than 500 people. Most were constructed decades ago. Statewide, distribution pipes, valves, and pumps are long overdue for upgrade and replacement. Vermont’s 118 municipal wastewater systems are in much the same condition.

These are not the only infrastructure concerns that face Vermont.  A recent document from our Agency of Transportation pointed out that: “Vermont has an aging infrastructure that must be preserved.  VTrans views asset  management, quantitative project prioritization, and associated performance measures as a means to get the most out of limited transportation dollars.”  The report also noted the following: “The total transportation budget of only $430 million including DMV is highly dependent on federal funding (about 51 percent).”  It is unwise  to continue relying heavily on “pennies for heaven”, or subsidies from the federal government, to meet out infrastructure needs.

Vermont needs to get its spending priorities in order.  In 2008 the Ethan Allen Institute issued a report titled “Off the Rails” that made the following observation about our spending trend at the time:

Today education and human services absorb about two thirds of total tax revenues collected by state and local governments in Vermont. That share will stay relatively constant for the next decade. By 2020 it will rise to 77 cents of every dollar collected in taxes by state and local governments. By 2025 88 cents out of every dollar will be spent on for education and human services. By 2030 virtually all taxes raised by all governments in Vermont will be needed to fund spending for education and human services.

This report was issued in 2008.  Since then we have added even more spending commitments in those areas with the proposed Green Mountain Care program potentially dwarfing previous commitments.  The Off the Rails report came with a warning that the rapid increase in spending on education and human services would crowd out other needs and leave us with little to spend in those areas of need.  Contained in the aforementioned Agency of Transportation was the revelation that: “A 2006 public opinion survey indicated that 70 percent of Vermonters favor spending a greater share of the budget on bridge repair/replacements and highway road repair and repaving.”  The Average Vermonter does not need a study to recognize that our infrastructure is sorely in need of attention and that our spending priorities are out of whack.


One thought on “Irene Reveals Vermont’s Infrastructure Vulnerabilities

  1. Any report by the Agency of natural Resources is always a plea for more money , but especially more POWER.

    The sky is always falling.

    Doug Richmond, Underhill

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