September 9, 2013 by Jeff
Friends and neighbors gathered together this past Saturday to talk watershed. The Summit at the Falls, sponsored by the Brandon Planning Commission and the Downtown Brandon Alliance Design Committee, was instructive for both participants and sponsors, and it resulted in some tangible action steps that will soon better Brandon’s relationship to the rivers that gave it life: the Neshobe and Otter Creek.
Four speakers set the stage: Ethan Swift, State watershed coordinator and Brandon Selectboard member, gave a virtual tour of the Neshobe watershed with vivid slides, showing the reaches of the river from the hills of Goshen, down through Forest Dale and Brandon, and ultimately to Otter Creek. Blaine Cliver, local historian and selectman talked about the Neshobe’s form and its rich history as a power source for industry that helped shape Brandon. Tina Wiles, Zoning Administrator and Certified Floodplain Manager, offered an informative talk on floodplains, flood erosion hazard zones and why mitigation and regulations are necessary for wise management practices along the river. Shannon Pytlik, State of Vermont River scientist, spoke on the ecology of the river, and how the river works best when we don’t try to channel it, armor its banks, or make other modifications – especially those that have a detrimental effect on other properties downstream.
Participants learned about good river management and use and how we can work together to reduce the risks from future flood disasters like Tropical Storm Irene.
A series of three break-out sessions took place following the speakers. Folks gathered at four thematic tables in the Town Hall to voice their concerns, questions and ideas to improve our relationship with the Neshobe. Facilitators from the DBA Design Committee and the Planning Commission listened and recorded what people said in three topic areas: the Neshobe and its History; its Uses; its Conservation and Restoration.
Lively discussions by all the participants sparked many new insights and ideas for future consideration and action. The fourth break-out session showcased a powerful river educational tool called the flume table. Operated by Ms. Pytlik, the flume table demonstrated what human constructions like culverts, berms, bridges and dredging do to change the river’s dynamics.
To conclude the day, the whole group reconvened to listen to the key points learned from each break-out session. An interactive discussion followed, facilitated by Robert Black, Chair of the DBA Design Committee. Participants in the audience talked about what they thought were the most important priorities to take on. Several common themes emerged, including:
- increased river access for the public;
- more education and outreach;
- broader planning and management for the whole watershed;
- preserving the natural qualities of the Neshobe;
- potential future water energy opportunities;
- on-going clean-up and maintenance activities.
Happily, what emerged were commitments from private citizens, the DBA Design Committee, Selectman Ethan Swift, and the Planning Commission to work on these issues. Be on the lookout for visible results and opportunities to volunteer!
NB: Special thanks to Robert Black for his write-up of the event, soon to appear in The Reporter, upon which this post was based.