PITTSFORD — In the unlikely event the Chittenden Dam breaks, some people in the affected area wouldn’t hear the warning siren that’s currently in place.
Jan Sotirakis, head of the Chittenden Emergency Management Team, told the Select Board at its June 5 meeting that Chittenden has a plan, but needs to come up with somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000. She asked the board if it would be willing to help. The board agreed to think about it and discuss it at its next regular meeting, which is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Office.
“The towns that are directly affected if there should be a breach of Chittenden Reservoir are obviously Chittenden, Pittsford, Rutland Town and Rutland City,” she said. “The inundation maps that we have stop in center Rutland, but we know the water is not going to stop there, the water is going to keep going and you’re going to be inundated from East Pittsford, but the water is going to come back around Otter Creek and get you on the other side, too,” she said.
She said that back in 2015, Chittenden was awarded a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help fund the purchase of a siren.
“It was a $42,000 siren system that was paid 75% by FEMA and 25% match by the town of Chittenden,” she said. “When we purchased that siren, we were told it would be adequate to notify all homes in the downstream path of the reservoir should there be a sudden unexpected breach. When we got it installed and tested it, we learned very quickly that it was not loud enough.”
The town’s other option at the time was a $160,000 airhorn. The town went with the cheaper option, she said, a move she agreed with.
“So we installed it and it’s not loud enough. It gets the houses in the immediate area, but it doesn’t catch everyone that would need to evacuate,” she said. “For us in Chittenden, there’s about 135 homes that would be affected by a breach of this reservoir. When I looked at rough numbers for Pittsford I’m thinking there’s about 28 to 30 homes that would be affected.”
Sotirakis said she lives in Pittsford in a spot where it’s believed the water would enter a choke-point.
“... there would be 42 feet of water at my house,” she said. “So obviously this is a concern to me.”
She said the committee has been working with American Signal Company.
“They’ve done lots of work here in Vermont, they did all the sirens for Vermont Yankee, it’s a reputable company,” she said. The company looked at the issue and said three more sirens are needed.
Sotirakis said the committee was able to find three sirens, “... two from Vermont Yankee, and one from Keene Fire Mutual Aid, that had received one from Vermont Yankee and were no longer using it. One of them we paid $500 for, the other two were donated for free.”
The sirens had to be cleaned up a bit, which technicians from Green Mountain Power did, she said.
“The issue we’re facing now is installation, and then testing and commissioning by the American Signal Company,” said Sotirakis. “The estimates we have received for this service is between $10,000 to $12,000.”
She said she’s looked for other grants, and help from Green Mountain Power, but so far these sources aren’t panning out.
“So we’re scrounging,” she said. “I’m about to have some bake sales in Chittenden, I think, a few of them, but I wanted to come back to Pittsford and see, based on what you know about the Chittenden Reservoir and East Pittsford, are you willing to consider any type of monetary donation to the siren system?”
Town Manager John Haverstock asked if Chittenden was looking for a one-time contribution, or something longer-term. Sotirakis said each siren costs about $600 per year in electrical bills, which she’s been talking to Green Mountain Power about. When asked if she’s reached out to Rutland Town, Sotirakis said she hasn’t, mainly because it’s not yet clear if the sirens will reach there.
Preston Rich, a member of the Chittenden Select Board, was also present at the meeting.
“You’re the next town it’s going to hit, so any offer you can make would be amazing,” he said.
Sotirakis said the committee also has a local emergency plan in case the dam is ever breached, which it shares with affected towns. It contains maps for evacuation routes, rally points and routes for emergency services.
She said the odds of the dam breaking are slim and it’s believed the two main causes would likely be either some kind of terrorist attack or an earthquake. The latter is the most likely, she said, as there’s a fault line in the area.
“The likelihood of this happening is very small, but since it’s considered a high hazard dam, the catastrophic effect, you couldn’t put numbers to it,” she said.