WILMINGTON– The tenor of last Friday’s annual Preservation Trust of Vermont conference at Memorial Hall was soaringly optimistic and underscored by the reality that Wilmington, along with other communities in Vermont affected by Tropical Storm Irene, needs to proceed thoughtfully in its recovery efforts.
The Preservation Trust, founded in 1980, focuses on preserving historic buildings and downtowns throughout the state of Vermont and helps individuals access funding for maintaining historic sites. In addition, at its meetings it honors specific individuals for outstanding preservation work in the state.
Wilmington residents, representatives from state government, individuals from around Vermont involved with preservation efforts in their own communities, and Gov. Peter Shumlin crowded into Memorial Hall to celebrate their collective work from the past several years, the most dramatic of which has centered around Vermont’s remarkable recovery efforts since August 2011.
“Resiliency” was the theme of this year’s meeting, with Wilmington serving as the most logical location to embody that spirit.
“Wilmington was the hardest hit community in Vermont, with $13 million worth of damage,” said town manager Scott Murphy during his opening remarks at the meeting, “but our community is beginning to once again thrive.”
Stuart Comstock-Gay, president and CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, delivered the meeting’s keynote address, in which he called on Vermonters to take pride in their recovery efforts but to temper that pride with realism. “I surely don’t need to tell anybody here that Vermont’s response to Tropical Storm Irene has been truly incredible,” he said. “But an important part of leadership is acknowledging what you’ve done well while focusing your attention so you can fix what you could have done better. We haven’t figured out how best to rebuild some of our communities. We haven’t resolved our growing and likely future problems of more floods or other disasters.”
Comstock-Gay cited the tremendous volunteer efforts and community interconnectedness in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene as points of pride for Vermont, specifically calling Vermont Town Meeting “the envy of the world.” In addition, he pointed to issues surrounding mobile homes and mobile home communities after the storm as a new challenge for the state. Mobile home communities were especially devastated by Irene’s floodwaters, and protecting these communities from future floods while also providing enough housing for their residents will require an innovative approach from the state government as well as home builders.
Noelle MacKay, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development, was also present and spoke about investments and improvements occurring throughout the state in 2011.
In that time, she said, the state enjoyed a net growth of 94 new businesses, 121 new business projects, $17 million in private investment, $23 million in public investment, and 263 jobs.
The meeting, in addition to celebrating resiliency throughout Vermont, also retained a focus on Wilmington.
Five organizations and business owners in Wilmington were recognized by the Preservation Trust at the meeting for their outstanding preservation and rebuilding efforts: the Friends of the Valley Foundation; the Wilmington Fund VT; Floodstock; the Deerfield Valley Rotary Club; and Lisa Sullivan and Phil Taylor, owners of Bartleby’s Books.
“Rebuilding Bartleby’s was the easiest thing we could have done,” said Lisa Sullivan, after receiving a standing ovation along with the rest of the awardees. “Rebuilding became a symbol of hope.”
“If you’re wondering about ‘802 Strong’ or ‘Vermont Strong,’” said Chris Zizza, of Friends of the Valley, “just look in the mirror. Here in Vermont, it’s just good friends and great friends.”
Adam Palmiter, who led the Rotarty Club’s fundraising efforts to help businesses, reminded meeting attendees that “being a younger person in the valley, there aren’t a lot of us. I don’t want things to fall apart. I want people to come back here.”
Gov. Shumlin closed the meeting by referring to Irene as the “third strike” against the economic health of Vermont, citing outside corporate pressure as well as the recession as the existing threats to Vermont’s economic vitality.