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Porter: Brave Little State

09/02/11 5:55PM By Louis Porter
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(HOST)  The second round of severe flooding in Vermont this year has commentator and former jouralist Louis Porter, now Lake Champlain Lakekeeper for the Conservation Law Foundation, thinking about the state's past relationship with high water - and its future.

(PORTER)  After seeing the rebuilding of his home state a year after the 1927 flood, and perhaps still smarting from criticism of his handling of a disaster in Mississippi the same year, President Calvin Coolidge delivered perhaps his most famous quote in Bennington. He said, "If the spirit of Liberty should vanish from other parts of our Union and the support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of the brave little state of Vermont."  It is a quote that has become nearly ubiquitous over the last few days as we have begun to clean up from the second in a pair of historic floods in a matter of months.

I doubt transportation and water infrastructure were the institutions Coolidge was thinking of. But they are owned in common and they have languished for want of national support over the last four decades. Spending on them has declined until we Americans spend half as much - as a share of GDP - as the Europeans, and a third as much as the Chinese.

That kind of public infrastructure is directly tied to flooding in two ways. First, when built as it has traditionally been it helps cause it. When massive amounts of water hit parking lots, roads and roofs it rushes together, threatening dams, over-topping sewer plants, filling streams to overflowing and contributing to massive human, economic and environmental damage.

Second, that infrastructure, from covered bridges to highways, gets destroyed by flooding as we have seen twice in recent months.
Not every year will see the remnants of a hurricane strike Vermont or the swift snow melt and heavy rain we had this spring, let alone both. But according to those who know sudden, fierce storms are likely to become increasingly common in New England with the wetter and more violent climate we have inflicted on ourselves.

As one flood victim explained the flooding to a reporter this week "the river couldn't take no more." We can no longer accept the old way getting water in as much volume as we can into the nearest stream and making it our downstream neighbors' problem as quickly as we can.

There is a solution and it can come from Vermont. As we repair and replace the roads, bridges, parking lots and buildings we have lost this week, and those washed away in the spring, we should insist on modern methods that slows water down, allows it to settle and puts as much of it as we can into the ground. Vermonters are already experimenting with these techniques and they bring with them jobs and expertise which will be increasingly necessary, as well as the chance to protect ourselves and our state.

Vermont, with our strong financial footing, a bond rating second to none and a dedication to working together - not to mention a tremendous amount of commonly owned property to repair - can finance and build these projects. Along the way, the brave little state of Vermont just might replenish support for at least one languishing national institution.

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