'Imminent' Landslide Risk Leaves Five Barre City Residents in Limbo | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


'Imminent' Landslide Risk Leaves Five Barre City Residents in Limbo


Published September 11, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

The crack above Pike Street - COURTESY OF SHAYLA MESSIER
  • Courtesy of Shayla Messier
  • The crack above Pike Street

Five Barre residents have been homeless for months due to a bureaucratic morass triggered by a landslide that hasn’t even happened yet. With no clear timeline, they’ve been unable to pursue a buyout for their properties and are prohibited from returning to their still-standing homes.

"The lack of communication is having drastic impacts on my mental health and ability to seek peace and sort out my life," said Alex Raeburn, who lives at 44 Pike Street. He's found a rental — but is still paying the mortgage on the empty home he bought in 2021.

Raeburn had to move out on July 19, when Barre City officials deemed his house and 36 Pike Street uninhabitable due to an "imminent landslide." They'd discovered a large crack in the soil behind the two properties. Barre had been swamped by rain, and officials believed it was not a matter of if — but when — the hill behind the two homes would collapse.

In most cases, that would qualify homeowners for a buyout of their imperiled properties. And in August,
the Vermont Geological Survey recommended just that.

But Barre City officials say the houses might still be salvageable, which prevents the Pike Street homeowners from pursuing buyouts.

"This is unprecedented," Ben DeJong, the state geologist, said of the situation. "I’m not aware of any other place in the state where we can very quickly state this is an imminent risk — but we might be able to fix it."
The city started conversations in August with a geotechnical engineering firm that could assess the risk of a Pike Street landslide. But it wasn’t until earlier this month that a contract was signed. City Manager Nicolas Storellicastro said it should take about three to four weeks to complete the assessment.

“It’s an ongoing challenge,” Storellicastro said. “From my layman’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer buyout. Hopefully we’ll get someone who can say that with credibility, and we’ll move forward.”

That's cold comfort to Raeburn, whose home insurance doesn't cover landslides. He's been relying on some rental assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which also gave him $4,000 for home repair — money he can't use until he regains access to his property.

FEMA has told Raeburn that they can’t provide him with any more buyout assistance until the city puts something on paper.

His neighbor Brandy Lussier has also had her life thrown into disarray. She's owned 36 Pike Street for 28 years and lived there with her daughter and son-in-law, Shayla and Justin Messier, and their son, Cole.
But the family scattered in July, with Brandy staying with her mother, Shayla and Justin with friends, and Cole with his paternal grandmother.

The family said they've received $1,500 per month in rental assistance from FEMA, but they've been unable to find an apartment in their price range.

Shayla worries about her son starting eighth grade in such an unstable situation.

"It's really distressing," she said. "In a way it’s even worse than not having a place to live, to not be able to provide stability for your child. And with no answers as to when this will end, we have no timeline."

Correction, September 12, 2023: A previous version of this story misreported the Barre City Council's role in hiring the geotechnical engineering firm.

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