Posts By: Nathaniel Gibson

Fixing our roads: Vermont rebuilds with an eye to the future – Montpelier-Barre Times Argus Special Feature

Posted on December 20, 2011 by - Montpelier-Barre Times Argus, Rutland Herald

Fixing our roads: Vermont rebuilds with an eye to the future

Nathaniel Gibson

The destruction and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene stranded several communities across Vermont — a shocking reminder of the significance of an infrastructure that sometimes gets taken for granted.

Roads and bridges are crucial links in any transportation network, especially in rural places where they often serve as the only option for movement between distant communities.

The state Agency of Transportation (AOT) has been meeting two of the major challenges raised by Irene’s destructive forces. It responded to the immediate damage from Irene and now is addressing the long-term planning issues associated with maintaining the state’s roads and bridges in the face of such intense weather events.

Initial response
Irene hit Vermont on Sunday, Aug. 28, bringing torrential rains that spawned severe flooding across the region. The AOT responded swiftly, working to be everywhere possible and quickly implementing temporary improvements to restore access.

State offices were closed on Monday, the day after the storm, because of flood damage. Despite this additional impediment, the AOT — one of the first lines of defense during natural disasters — assembled a team to monitor radio updates from the agency’s 65 maintenance garages and evaluate the scope of the damage.

By the end of that first day, the scale of the disaster had become apparent: roads and bridges across the state had been decimated by the storm, and 13 towns — Cavendish, Granville, Hancock, Killington, Mendon, Marlboro, Pittsfield, Plymouth, Rochester, Stock­bridge, Strafford, Stratton, and Wardsboro — were inaccessible.

By the next morning, Aug. 30, the AOT began setting up two incidence command response teams to assist with the deployment of resources and recovery efforts. An incidence command response team (ICRT) is commonly used by all levels of government to command, control, and coordinate emergency response.

The two teams were quickly deployed to Rutland and Dummerston, areas hardest hit by the storm, and were operational by 6 a.m. Sue Minter, AOT deputy secretary, said that the rapid deployment of both teams was crucial, as was getting the required communications technology set up within such a short time frame.

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[CAPTION] Route 4 in Killington and Mendon was washed out in several places, cutting off Rutland from the eastern part of the state.

The Dummerston ICRT included 53 consultants, 120 AOT district staff, 149 employees from the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT), 20 employees from the New Hampshire DOT, 166 National Guard members, and 60 contractors with various numbers of employees.

The Rutland ICRT included 49 consultants initially (this number later grew to 82), 200 AOT District Staff, 200 employees from the Maine Department of Transportation, 500 National Guard members from six states, and 125 contractors with various numbers of employees.

Minter estimates that contractors have deployed more than 1,000 employees combined to rebuild roads and bridges.

As the IRCTs fielded incoming calls, officials organized available resources and allocated them to the areas most in need of assistance. Minter notes that the IRCTs deployed the resources quickly and effectively, emphasizing the ongoing dedication of the team members, many of whom worked nonstop, 16-hour days.

By evening of Aug. 31, access was restored to 12 of the 13 communities that had been rendered inaccessible by the storm. The next day, work to provide full access to Wardsboro, the last isolated town, was complete.

Once access was restored to all communities, the AOT turned its focus to assisting utilities as they worked to restore power to residents across the state.

By Friday, Sept. 2 — five days after Irene — electrical power had been restored to the vast majority of residents, and AOT’s priority shifted to reestablishing the state’s east-west routes, vital to commerce and tourism.

On Sept. 16, a major milestone was reached with the reopening of Route 4 in Mendon. “We have teams working non-stop, these folks are so dedicated,’ said Minter.

In the short term
With cold weather approaching, AOT’s immediate focus now is to finish repairing the state’s roads. The agency has expedited the contract approval and ordering processes to move projects along as rapidly as possible within the parameters dictated by federal agencies.

“Our goal is to have everything traversable by winter,” said Rich Tetreault, AOT Chief Engineer. “People may have to drive a little slower in some locations, but they will be able to get where they need to go.”

Inspecting and opening bridges as soon as possible is another significant task. The AOT is making headway here, also. “Bridge crews from the state came and inspected structures in town within the first two days after the storm,” reported Keith Mason, foreman of the Pawlet Town Highway Department.

The AOT has inspected every bridge in the state at least once; some bridges have been re-inspected due to heavy rains that continued to fall after Irene. In some places, the AOT has been able to reopen bridges — but in many others, bridges were destroyed.

“In most of these cases we will be putting up temporary structures that will have to be rebuilt,” said Minter.

The majority of these temporary structures will be prefab steel trusses, which can be constructed much faster and require less foundation and concrete work. But each bridge site presents a unique situation that must be carefully evaluated, even for temporary structures.

In some cases, temporary bridges will be built off-alignment with roads to allow unhindered construction on permanent replacements. And in certain locations, temporary bridges will be longer than the bridges they are replacing, as this configuration requires less time for construction of foundations.

Once temporary fixes to the state’s roads and bridges are complete, AOT will shift its focus to the construction of long-term structures.

The flood disaster also highlighted the importance of secondary and tertiary town roads. In many towns where state roads became flooded, town roads higher up on mountainsides and further away from floodwaters provided access to areas that otherwise would have been cut off from the rest of the community. Most significantly, these roads connected people and communities to emergency services.

“Alternate routes enabled emergency response vehicles to get where they needed to be,” said Mason.

In the long run
Beyond initial recovery efforts, Irene also has raised a number of long-term questions.

Aware that climate change means a future that may hold more intense weather events, AOT is coordinating with the Agency of Natural Resources and the Climate Cabinet formed by Gov. Peter Shumlin earlier this year.

The issue: to evaluate how the current infrastructure may need to be modified. These considerations include the sizing of culverts, road construction and locations, and stormwater and runoff management.

“We understand pretty well what’s needed to insulate ourselves against flooding events,” said Tetreault. “The Interstates and Route 7 fared well during Irene.” The fact that populations in Vermont have typically developed along river valleys is one of the main challenges that the AOT faces.

Tetreault reports that AOT is working with fluvial geomorphologists, or river scientists, from ANR to understand river conditions, the implications of road placement, and the long-term paths that rivers could take.

Such projections are essential components of AOT’s plans for the future. ANR’s assistance also is crucial for short-term fixes. Many complex factors must be weighed. And decisions made now will affect the state’s streams and rivers not only at the spot of construction or repair, but also far downstream and far into the future.

AOT’s goal is to work with rivers — not against them — and use the aftermath of the flooding as an opportunity to get things right.

“It’s a real opportunity for us to be thinking long-term, as we know that we have invested in those areas that have been so hard hit,” said Minter.

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in Pawlet and may be contacted at

The article originally appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times Argus Vermont Recovery Special Feature, Vol. 2 on September 23 to commemorate Vermont’s response to Tropical Storm Irene.

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There are lots of microbreweries to see in Vermont — hop to it! — Rutland Regional Guide

Posted on October 24, 2011 by - Rutland Regional Guide, Vermont Beer

There are lots of microbreweries to see in Vermont — hop to it!

Switchback Brewing Company employee Mike Jadczak works on old kegs at Switchback's brewery in Burlington. Free tours of the facility are offered every Saturday at 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Visitors are asked to make reservations as tour size is limited, (802) 651-4114. Photo Credit Gretchen Langfeldt.

By Nathaniel Gibson

Vermont has become a mecca for connoisseurs seeking unique craft beer and microbrews. Buoyed by the support of customers who appreciate finely crafted local and organic products — and are willing to pay a bit more for the quality — Vermont microbreweries have become nationally recognized.

According to the Vermont Brewers Association (VBA), more craft beer is brewed per capita in the state than anywhere else in the country. “Craft brewing is something that is taken very seriously in the state of Vermont — but not too seriously. It’s a wonderful mix of whimsy and businesses,” says Kurt Staudter, executive director of the VBA. “These brewers have taken an ancient art and turned it into a business that Vermonters have stepped up to embrace.”

“I enjoy fresh beer,” says Devin Riley of Middletown Springs, who describes himself as an avid Long Trail drinker. “It just tastes better.”

There are currently 21 microbreweries around the state. Some, such as Magic Hat, Harpoon, Long Trail and Otter Creek, are household names — but less well-known brewers offer beer that is also excellent. Some of the newcomers include the Northshire Brewery, the Hill Farmstead Brewery, the Brewery at Trapp Family Lodge, and the Vermont Beer Company.

Located in Bennington, the Northshire Brewery’s flagship beer is the Equinox Pilsner. Owner Earl McGoff keeps the brew in fermentation tanks for 8 weeks — the right way to produce a pilsner, he says, even if it’s not the most cost-effective approach.

The Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend brews a wide range of craft beers, including imperial IPAs, stouts, pale ales, and a bourbon-aged porter. The brewery’s retail shop is open 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

The Brewery at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe crafts lagers that are an American take on traditional Austrian brews. Offerings include Vienna Amber, Dunkel Lager, Golden Helles and a seasonal summer lager.

The Vermont Beer Company sells beer exclusively at the Perfect Pear Cafe in Bradford. By brewing beer on a 10-gallon system they are able to rotate their drafts frequently. Featured beers included Waits River Red Ale, First Tap IPA and Devil’s Den Brown Porter.

Other notable Vermont craft brewers include the Alchemist Pub and Brewery and Rock Art Brewery. Located in Waterbury, Alchemist features a wide array of brews, from Belgian-style wheat beer to American red ales that are heavy on the hops. If you visit, be sure to check out their Beelzebub stout as well. It is an American stout with a massive malt presence that is balanced by a huge hop character.

Rock Art in Morrisville offers a great variety of craft beers, including Whitetail American ale, Infusco Belgian black ale, Midnight Madness smoked porter, and Belvedere IPA. Tours of the brewery are given Friday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tastings are offered Monday and Tuesday until 5:00 p.m. and Wednesday through Saturday until 5:30 p.m.

For dedicated enthusiasts, the VBA offers a passport program. Visit all the breweries in the state, get your passport stamped and redeem the passport for free beer gear. Details are available on the VBA Web site:

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and beer enthusiast who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted via

The article originally appeared in the Late Summer 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.

Farmers markets are sprouting up all over Vermont — Rutland Regional Guide

Posted on October 21, 2011 by - Local Food, Rutland Regional Guide

Farmers markets are sprouting up all over Vermont

By Nathaniel Gibson

The Cobb Hill Farm stand at the Hartland Farmers Market offers a wide range of local food items and fresh produce, including green beans and rainbow chard. Photo Credit Shari Altman.

Celebrate National Farmers Market Week in August by visiting your nearby farmers market – all autumn long. Luckily, you won’t have far to go.

Farmers markets are sprouting like wonderful flowers across Vermont to meet the growing demand for fresh, local food products.

The trend is reflected nationwide as well: from 2009 to 2010, the number of farmers markets across the country grew by an estimated 16 percent. Farmers markets not only offer food and quality crafts; they also provide entertainment and build community.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Web site lists 77 farmers markets statewide.

Some, such as the Hartland Farmers Market, are relative newcomers. Founded in 2010, it is open 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. every Friday and offers seasonal veggies — green beans, carrots, rainbow chard, to name just a few — plus farm-raised beef, baked goods, local cheeses and specialty-cut flowers.

Picnic tables are available where visitors can sample the fare and listen to live music. In keeping with the theme of sustainability that runs through all Vermont farmers markets, a local company offers recycling pickups at the market.

The Cobb Hill Farm stand at the Hartland Farmers Market offers a wide range of fresh produce and local food items, including farm-raised beef, cheese, and eggs. Photo Credit Shari Altman.

Organizer Sharon Irwin attributes the Hartland market’s growth to word of mouth and lots of community support. The market attracts a mix of local residents, people from neighboring communities and out-of-state visitors. “The town and community have both been really supportive of it,” she says. “It’s great to see people coming to hang out with their neighbors and friends.”

Other new farmers markets have taken root in Lyndonville (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.), Castleton (Thursdays, 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.), and Pawlet (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 6 p.m.).

Many of these newcomers are offshoots of the state’s larger, well-established farmers markets.

The Wood Family of Pawlet offers their maple products and farm-fresh eggs at the very first Pawlet farmers market this summer. Photo Credit Sue LaPorte.

The downtown Rutland Farmers Market is the biggest — with over 90 vendors selling a huge variety of food and crafts. These include seasonal fruits and produce, local honey, fresh eggs, artisan cheese, flowers, pickled vegetables, jams, and pies and more.

The Rutland Farmers Market is open two days per week. It operates from May 7 to October 29 on Saturdays (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Tuesdays (3 p.m. to 6 p.m.). The market is a collaborative effort of the Rutland County Farmers’ Market and the Vermont Farmers Market, whose members have watched it grow steadily over the years.

“It’s been a good thing for the vendors, a good thing for the city, and a good thing for the customers,” says Judy Dark, one of the organizers, noting that in addition to supporting local farmers and craftspeople the market encourages people to come out and interact with the downtown area.

Beyond a core contingent of local customers who loyally support their favorite vendors, the market also attracts visitors from out of state. Dark has fielded calls from people planning trips from Massachusetts and metropolitan New York who want to know if the market will be open when they visit.

Other well-established markets are in Burlington (Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), Montpelier (Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.), and Fair Haven (Fridays, 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.).

For more information visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Web site at

Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer and locavore who lives in Pawlet. He can be contacted via

The article originally appeared in the Late Summer 2011 edition of the Rutland Regional Vermont Insider Guide.