In the days and weeks after Tropical Storm Irene, people from all over Vermont and the United States helped us to start to put our lives back together. Our Good Neighbor fund raised over hundreds of thousands of dollars, most of it in small donations.
The state came in and provided help; aid organizations came. FEMA provided federal guidance and later sponsored a Long Term Flood Recovery process that asked the community to come forward to help themselves heal by discussing what the future of our town could be after the crisis.
Amid the chaos, Revitalizing Waterbury and local volunteers formed Rebuild Waterbury, which raised over $1 million to help families and individuals pay for renovations they could not otherwise afford. Local business groups from central Vermont and the Mad River Valley raised funds and disbursed them to the local small businesses that needed emergency cash, waiting for slow insurance companies to issue timely settlements.
Eventually, the state announced it was going to rebuild the Waterbury Complex and return up to 1,000 employees. The historic structures will be saved and repurposed. They have designed flood mitigation in a way that will contribute to protecting our downtown. Senator Leahy announced a $900,000 grant to the Central Vermont Community Land Trust to help turn Ladd Hall into affordable housing for up to 27 families. The Vermont General Assembly passed legislation funding the reconstruction of the state office buildings, to be subsidized by FEMA and insurance money, and they have expedited construction of a new state hospital and mental health care system.
Is this, then, the time to help ourselves? We are tired of recovering, worrying and struggling. All around us, people are amazed at how far we have come, how resilient we are. This bond vote is, in a way, a referendum on our recovery. We have invested so much time, energy, good will, and sweat equity to get to where we are today. This project is made possible by the generosity and foresight and hard work of so many people. It is now up to us to take advantage of this generosity and to make our local investment in a project that will solidify Waterbury’s municipal infrastructure for generations to come.
The frustration coming from the opposition to the bond is curious. It is based on a pre-Irene balkanization of viewpoints on the size and function of government. Virtually none of the civic projects, from the school to the fire stations to merger, were supported by this same opposition and made the road to completion more difficult and more expensive — the opposite of their stated aim. In the buildup to this week’s vote, they have been denigrating the hard work done by town and village officials, and the hundreds of community members who participated in the many meetings over the course of 18 months.
Dedication, planning and hard work have brought us to this decision. That is what we are voting on this month. Please join me in supporting the bond, and for believing in a town that will always rise to the occasion — our town.
Tom Stevens is a state representative from Waterbury.
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