Leicester Emergency Manager Ray Lalumiere checks the latest Otter Creek flood data as Leicester Junction residents Crystal Sears and members the Lussier family stand at the water’s edge Aug. 31.
Ray Lalumiere, emergency manager for the Town of Leicester, has a lot on his mind this week. Lalumiere has the task of monitoring the town’s latest crisis—the rising water of the swollen, north flowing Otter Creek.
For 20 years, Lalumiere has faithfully and cautiously executed his volunteer civic tasks—making sure Leicester residents and assets are protected from harm’s way.
“In all my time as emergency manager, there’s been nothing like Irene,” he said.
At Leicester Junction, where the Otter Creek crosses the Leicester-Whiting Road and a vital portion of Vermont Railway track, residents are watching an increasing amount of water spill over the road and rise to reach their homes.
A small, fenced-in propane tank farm is located behind the historic Leicester Depot. The depot itself is now completely surrounded by flood water.
“The Aug. 28 tropical deluge was the record for the Otter Creek as measured at Center Rutland,” said Lalumiere. “It was a record 17.21 feet. Before Aug. 28, the record at Center Rutland was the Hurricane in 1938 at 13.4 feet.”
Hurricanes were not named prior to 1950.
Just as in 1938, the 2011 flood crest will take a few days to reach Leicester as it passes—like a slow moving bulge—on its way to Middlebury, Vergennes and Lake Champlain.
“The peak of the flood water of 1938 took several days to reach low-lying Leicester Junction. It covered the depot and made a mess. I believe it will make the same mess,” Lalumiere said.
Even with the latest Otter Creek flood measurement data printout in hand, Lalumiere has taken some good-humored jabbing from fellow town official, Arlan Pigeon, highway foreman, with a smile.
“Well, I don’t think the flood water will reach as high as Ray fears,” Pigeon said, ”but I know that he has to be very safety minded and he also has a big responsibility in town. Who knows? The creek did rise 8-10 inches just since last night. But I think the fields along here can take a lot more water.”
Lalumiere explained why he thinks the coming crest could be significant.
“There are two major Otter Creek ‘choke points’ between the falls at Center Rutland and here at Leicester Junction—they are located at Proctor Falls and at a narrow area located behind Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon.
“The high water doesn’t come immediately down here as most people think,” he said. “This is a huge volume of water—more than four feet higher than the 1938 flood. It’s fluid, it speeds up, slows down, backs up in choke points—which are kind of like big soup bowls—then gains velocity again and plows on ahead.”
Lalumiere expects the crest of the Aug. 28 floodwater to reach Leicester Junction late Sunday, Sept. 4, and into Monday, Sept. 5—the Labor Day holiday.
“Because water is a fluid, it behaves differently from most things,” Lalumiere said.
“Even at normals times, a river like the Otter Creek is slightly higher in the center and lower on the edges. That’s because of the physical dynamics of water. This weekend there will be a bigger center bulge in the creek as the crest passes through here,” he said.
Watching the rising Otter Creek Aug. 31 were several local residents.
The neighbors were evacuated from approximately 30 low-lying homes in the Junction area. The homes, now surrounded by the flooding Otter Creek, stand on Bridal Path Lane, the Leicester-Whiting Road, and dead-end Stove Pipe Lane.
Crystal Sears who lives on Stove Pipe Lane evacuated Aug. 30.
“I got out because I have to work. I could get back and forth for a day or so with the town’s help—Arlan is giving residents a lift on the town’s big payloader tractor to let us keep an eye on things, but at some point this weekend he probably can’t keep doing this.”
Kenny and Carrie Lussier live on Stove Pipe Lane, too.
The young couple, along with their sons Jacob, 6, and Dylan, 10, stood at the water’s edge wandering if the flood would reach their house.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Kenny Lussier said. “My Ford Mustang is in the driveway, so I am not worried.”
Sandy Cram, a resident of nearby Cram Road, visited with her Junction neighbors to see if they needed anything.
“I think Vermonters should pat themselves on the back this week,” Cram said. “It’s amazing how many people are doing things to help their neighbors.
“Arlen Pigeon is doing a tremendous job for residents. He’s taking time out of his day to shuttle residents in and out of here on the tractor while he still can. Leicester really is a great town to live in. It’s a real community. This week, I am very proud to be a Vermonter,” she said.