Hundreds Gather in Montpelier to Talk Recovery | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Hundreds Gather in Montpelier to Talk Recovery

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Published August 10, 2023 at 11:06 p.m.


RACHEL HELLMAN
  • Rachel Hellman

More than 300 people assembled at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier on Thursday to brainstorm how the city should recover and rebuild following the July 10 flood.

The event — hosted by Montpelier Strong and the City of Montpelier — was moderated by Paul Costello, who led the Vermont Council on Rural Development until his retirement two years ago. Costello ran the discussion in the style of the development council, which facilitates townwide meetings aimed at boiling down the raw ideas of a community into actionable steps.

“This is not a city meeting. It’s not a legally binding meeting," Costello said at the outset. "Tonight is a meeting to get ideas on the table. It’s a meeting where everyone is an equal."

Costello explained that all were welcome to share their thoughts but were limited to a minute of time to talk. A handful of volunteers made their way through the crowd to hand off microphones. The sizable crowd was attentive and civil as speaker after speaker shared their personal struggle, minor grievance or idea for a solution.

Many participants thanked Montpelier Alive — a nonprofit that took the reins when it came to organizing in the immediate aftermath of the flood — for its help, while expressing frustration with the city's response.

“It felt to me like we did not have the kind of information that we needed,” one woman said. “I hope we can do something about that.”

Others called for immediate aid to get downtown businesses running again. Some said more attention should be paid to struggling unhoused residents. Many warned that the city will face more climate-related disasters.

Residents shared personal stories about flooded buildings and homes. Many focused on potential solutions, from small-scale ideas to pie-in-the-sky schemes.

One participant who worked for a local environmental nonprofit called for more green space in flood-prone areas. An older man suggested the entire downtown be moved uphill. Someone else threw out the idea of tax credits for residents who volunteer to help rebuild the city.

The evening wrapped with a promise from the organizers to digest and distill what had been shared, both in person and online. A second meeting is scheduled for August 22 at the Vermont Statehouse.

“The center of world democracy isn’t in Paris,” Costello concluded. “It’s not at the Statehouse in Montpelier. It's where people gather and make it real."

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