By Eric Francis
PLYMOUTH — Out of the 64 roads in the town of Plymouth, only three emerged from Tropical Storm Irene completely unscathed.
Now, with the one-month mark approaching, stitching Plymouth’s network of paved and dirt roads back together again remains the town’s top priority before winter sets in.
“As a town, we took one of the worst hits as far as roads,” said Al Poirer, who served as Plymouth’s Incident Commander during the first eleven days of the storm recovery’s emergency management phase, until enough connectivity was finally established to the rest of the state to allow for the town to be turned back over to the selectmen to run. “It was from end to end. There is no section of town that escaped: North, south, east, west. It made no difference,” Poirer noted.
“For the first two days we no access to the outside world. We could not get out of here. We could not get up 100 North, we couldn’t go 100A, and we couldn’t go 100 South,” Poirer recalled. “We had no electricity, no phone, no internet and unfortunately cell phones don’t work here so we had no cell coverage. We couldn’t talk to Vermont Emergency Management, we couldn’t even let our families know we were okay.”
The Great Roaring Brook, which had suddenly decided to live up to its name, destroyed two houses in Plymouth Union right next to the town hall and then joined with the headwaters of the Black River to cut a channel across the Pingree Farm, severing Route 100 South in Pingree Flats, tearing the back off a trailer home, and creating a washout so massive that it soon became known as “The Plymouth Gorge.”
“It was a major, major blowout. Like the Earth had changed,” noted Windsor County Senator Alice Nitka of Ludlow.
Poirer and many of Plymouth’s first responders were holed up in at the combined fire station and town garage building around the clock for a week-and-a-half, working alongside Plymouth’s three-person highway department, where a small amount of water had come in and soaked the carpets but left the large brown building completely functional, albeit without power.
“Losing this building would have been tough,” Poirer said, but the fort held and the tiny town crew ventured down Route 100 South filling washouts as they went, even though the highway and the responsibility for it technically belong to the state.
“As a town, we filled washouts on the state roads just so we could move around,” Poirer recalled, noting, “There was one section on Pingree Flats where if I say the rubble across Route 100 was three feet deep it was not an exaggeration. It was just stones blocking the road for a hundred or two hundred yards where the hillsides gave way and everything came down from the mountain.”
Late on the first Tuesday evening following that Sunday’s torrential downpour, the first bypass of Route 100 South, a haphazard connection between a road in the Hawk Inn and Mountain Resort complex with a former logging trail on the other side, was opened up.
“When we constructed that first cow path out of town then we could escape,” Poirer recalled. “It was just for emergency use but we could get out and we were able to get to Ludlow and do a few things. But until we re-established phone service and electric here it was very, very hard.”
That bypass, which would become known as “Rocky Road 1” was superceded a little over a week later by “Rocky Road 2,” a more robust plowed horseshoe around the huge washout put together by everyone available, including a Windsor County deputy sheriff, who could take turns running an excavator. Since that road could support fire trucks and ambulances it allowed for the state of emergency in Plymouth to finally be lifted.
“In all we lost three structures, which is horrendous, but it’s not as bad as some other towns,” Poirer said, noting that Plymouth’s road were where the problems were.
“There were a few roads that didn’t have a lot of damage but for most it was very severe damage,” Poirer said, adding, “Hale Hollow, Lynds Hill, Grandview Lodge, Kingdom Road, Scout Camp Road, Dublin Road…all major, major hits.”
On Kingdom Road, which cuts off towards Tyson near the Echo Lake Inn, nearly a half mile of paved road disappeared between Scout Camp Road and Pollard Road.
On Route 100A an important, state-owned bridge, washed away, truncating the connection between Plymouth Notch and Bridgewater Corners, but very few town owned bridges in Plymouth were actually damaged, just the roads themselves.
“The amount of hauling we have to do to repair our roads is mind-boggling,” Poirer said. “Our roads will not be back to pre-Irene conditions for a long time and at a cost that is just very, very scary to this town right now.”
As of the middle of this week both Route 4 and Route 100 (but not 100A) through Plymouth had both reopened to unrestricted (albeit slow) traffic. Hale Hollow was also reported to be close to reopening.
Throughout the crisis Poirer said the townspeople of Plymouth “have been incredible.”
“We’ve had tremendous support from the beginning,” Poirer said, adding, “At times we’ve had more volunteers than we could handle.”
“The Farm & Wilderness camp has been a phenomenal neighbor. They were here with food three times a day feeding everyone for 10 days straight,” he said.
“Irene made life difficult for everyone in town but they all pitched in. There weren’t too many complaints,” Poirer added, “It’s not surprising because this town has always been very tightly knit but it’s still nice to see.”
“We’re all here. That’s the one good thing,”
Poirer concluded, “We didn’t have any injuries so that’s the what we are really, really thankful for. Everything else can get rebuilt, it’s money and time, but we can rebuild.”
By Eric Francis