3 years after Irene, vital GMNF road close to reopening
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | August 17,2014
Patrick McArdle / Staff photo
Construction workers expect this bridge to be ready for traffic by next week. The Kelley Stand Road in Sunderland has been closed to through-traffic since Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 but it’s expected to reopen in September.
SUNDERLAND — Three years after Tropical Storm Irene shut it down, the Kelley Stand Road is about to open again, thanks to a $4 million effort to restore the road, adjust the river and replace two bridges.
Much of the Kelley Stand Road, which runs from Sunderland to Stratton, is in the Green Mountain National Forest. While it’s remote, the road is popular among tourists who want to see the forest or use it for recreational purposes like hiking or snowmobiling.
The 10-mile road has been closed since Irene. But John Kamb, a civil engineer with the Green Mountain National Forest, said it’s expected to open again by mid-September, a few weeks after the third anniversary of the storm.
The Kelley Stand is the last road in, or overseen by, the GMNF that has yet to reopen. Kamb said two other roads are unlikely to ever be used again.
Employees of Lyndon Center contractor J.A. McDonald have been working on the road since September, clearing debris, crushing onsite gravel to be used on the road, adding structures to the Roaring Branch to keep it within its banks, and fixing two bridges along the 4.5 miles of road they’re working to restore.
Kamb said the contract with McDonald is worth about $3.71 million. The rest of the $4 million was spent in 2012 when work was performed on the west side of the Kelley Stand, within the first few miles of where it starts in Sunderland, to help residents reach their property.
Last week, Kamb spoke about what the road was like when he saw it the day after Irene.
Just a few miles beyond the road’s start in Sunderland, Kamb points to a section where there was “a mountain of huge rocks and trees that completely blocked this area” and effectively closed the road.
“Seeing the raw power of nature was just unbelievable; what it could do,” he said. “… The road pretty much just literally came to an end. There was nothing but snags and uprooted (trees). … It wreaked havoc through here.”
Sunderland Selectman James “Cubby” Ennis, who has lived on the Kelley Stand his entire life, recalled trying to wait out the storm in August 2011 with his dog, Mike. It didn’t seem so bad for the first few hours, he said, but then he saw trees along the banks being swept away by the current of the Roaring Branch.
“I told the dog, ‘Come on, we gotta get out of here,’” he said.
Because of the importance of the Kelley Stand as access to the national forest, the work qualified for Emergency Relief for Federally Owned roads, or ERFO, funding. Kamb said ERFO was like the Federal Emergency Management Agency for federal roads “except it’s 100-percent funded.”
Ethan Ready, a spokesman for the GMNF, said the Kelley Stand was a priority.
“We’ve heard from the public loud and clear that this road is critical to their access,” Ready said. “… The phones ring and it’s (people asking,) ‘When’s Kelley Stand going to open?’ We’re trying to move forward as quickly as we can and also making sure that the job is done right.”
Ennis, who has met many visitors using the Kelley Stand, said he has learned it’s especially popular with tourists because it’s mentioned in European travel magazines as one of the last Vermont roads “that’s nothing but trees and road.”
Among the special challenges of rebuilding the road has been its remote location and the local conditions. Kamb said the Roaring Branch continues to rise during any significant rain event since Irene; Ennis added there’s only a short window in any given year when crews can work in the river.
Ready said part of the restriction of river work was that the section of river is an important trout habitat.
Matt Morin, a supervisor with the J.A. McDonald crew, said there were 26 employees working on this contract. On Wednesday, several of them were working to have the second of two bridges repaired and ready for traffic by next week.
“It’s been a fun little job,” Morin said.
Kamb said GMNF officials knew the work they were doing wasn’t going to keep the Kelley Stand from being affected by storm damage, especially in another storm as severe as Irene.
“We’re hoping that the road is newer and better and going to be more resilient to storms in the future,” Kamb said
“That’s not to say if we get another storm like Irene, there’s not going to be damage to this road again,” he said. “There’s just no way around that. But we’re going to see a road that will be able to withstand it better than it did before.”