By CHRIS MAYS / Reformer Staff
WILMINGTON — As you look down Main Street, activity is steadily building after two years since Tropical Storm Irene ruined many of the downtown businesses.
On Aug. 28, at Gov. Peter Shumlin’s press conference at Memorial Hall on the day of the second anniversary, people gathered to hear the message that Vermonters had worked together to rebuild the communities that had been destroyed by Irene.
“It was a good way to close the two-year celebration because he was here right after the flood and here again last year, when they met at Dot’s to do the reconstruction of Dot’s,” said Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy. “This is a closure issue for the state.”
One resident had remarked that the day was similar to the day after the storm: sunny with blue skies and a comfortable breeze. Together, the community is still picking up the pieces.
Employees of Dot’s Restaurant, which is scheduled to open next month, handed out free bowls of their famous homemade chili. They had set up a table outside their building, which had been destroyed by Irene.
A special fundraising effort called Rebuild Dot’s had assisted with costs associated with reopening its location in Wilmington.
The Wilmington Fund Vermont was established by Dan and Tamara Kilmurray, two long-time second homeowners. They have worked with residents whose efforts have assisted in the funding of several projects, including the re-paving of a village parking lot.
The Friends of the Valley is a group made up of second homeowners who wanted to support recovery efforts after Irene. The Wilmington Flood Relief was another charity created to aid the town during the days following the storm. Both were named during the press conference
While places like Bartleby’s Bookstore and Wahoo’s Eatery had reopened almost immediately with monumental recovery efforts, there are still empty storefronts that Shumlin had noted.
Since Wilmington’s village was approved for the Vermont Downtown Program, the organization Wilmington Works was created. It has worked with other groups to attempt to make use of those buildings and accomplish other goals towards restoring vibrancy.
“One of the best outcomes of Irene has been the ability of people to work together and solve problems today,” said Wilmington Works Board Co-Chair John Gannon. “We can really move this town forward in the next couple of months, next couple of years. We look forward to making the town of Wilmington a better place.”
Fellow Co-Chair Lisa Sullivan spoke of how the community was back to work putting itself back together. She mentioned the long term recovery efforts that several residents are enthusiastic about.
“I wish I could say the economy has recovered but there is still a lot of work,” Sullivan said. “There are still too many empty buildings, which is the primary focus of recovery (now).”
State Treasurer Beth Pearce briefly mentioned the story of how Wilmington Town Clerk Susie Haughwout saved important records of the town. Her car was destroyed on Main Street due to the flooding that occurred after she rescued the documents.
Haughwout’s most recent efforts have been focused on making all the town records digital to prevent the risk of destruction.
“This is a success story that came out of Wilmington,” Pearce said of the town’s recovery efforts.
Murphy told the Reformer that there were still at least a couple of people waiting on buyout programs to be completed. But as far as a municipality, the Whites Road Bridge is the final recovery project for the town. It is slated to be done by the end of September.
“We’re happy to be done with Irene and looking forward to moving forward,” he said.
State Sen. Bob Hartwell weighed in on the efforts as well. He has lived in Wilmington since the middle of April.
“Based on what we see, I think we’re going to go a very far way,” Hartwell concluded.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.