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Vt. residents dry out, pick up pieces as Lake Champlain recedes

Businesses along Lake Champlain’s shoreline in Burlington, Vt., began cleanup efforts over the weekend after the lake dipped below its flood stage for the first time since April 13. Businesses along Lake Champlain’s shoreline in Burlington, Vt., began cleanup efforts over the weekend after the lake dipped below its flood stage for the first time since April 13. (Toby Talbot/ Associated Press)
By John Curran
Associated Press / June 20, 2011

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BURLINGTON, Vt. — For people and businesses along its shoreline, the receding flood waters of Lake Champlain shoreline are both blessing and curse.

After two months above flood stage, the giant freshwater lake bordered by New York, Vermont, and Quebec is finally getting back where it belongs — and out of basements, streets, and lakefront cottages. On Saturday, it dipped below 100 feet above sea level, which is flood stage, for the first time since April 13.

The water may be gone, but it has left behind a muddy mess, deposits of debris and driftwood everywhere, and properties suddenly in need of big ticket repairs.

At the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, water that rose to 8 inches deep forced the evacuation of the office, which now needs new drywall and electric wiring. Worse, it damaged shoreline and docks where the sailing center launches its boats.

While its boats and equipment are designed to get wet, much was damaged by being submerged for weeks, according to executive director Kate Neubauer.

The flooding delayed the opening of the center from late April until July 4, which cost about $50,000 in program revenue and $25,000 more in damages. Not all the problems are known yet, though. Divers must still get underwater to examine the sluice gates where boats are launched to see if there is damage below, she said.

The experience has shaken both staff and users of the lake.

“Our whole existence is based on Lake Champlain,’’ said Neubauer. “What [the flooding] did for us was to remind us that Lake Champlain is a powerful presence in this community. This flood exemplified that. It has a lot of power. It flooded and it caused a lot of damage.’’

And left a lot behind.

In the sailing center’s boatyard, a Dumpster is filled with the flotsam and jetsam that floated in with flood waters — a couch, part of a refrigerator, shoes, clothing, driftwood of all shapes and sizes

In the North Cove Road neighborhood of Burlington where Kyle Southwell lives, the water turned the road into a moving river several feet deep that surrounded homes. Some were flooded, others just isolated by the water.

“Six weeks of hell,’’ said Southwell, 31.

He wasn’t able to drive in and out until last week. He is still assessing the damage. Muskrats that swam in water under the house during the flooding chewed up insulation, and the flood waters washed away the gravel driveway he put down last year. He also is concerned that the structure may have been damaged.

About 50 miles up the lake’s eastern shore from that Burlington neighborhood, the cleanup is under way at the St. Anne’s Shrine in Isle La Motte.

The shrine site, a picturesque 13-acre lakefront property that’s a summertime destination for thousands each year, was flooded by up to a foot of water for weeks.

Trees are listing because the ground beneath them is so sodden. A large cottonwood that fell across a road is still blocking the way to a statue of Samuel de Champlain. The split rail fencing that borders the site is gone, pathways have been damaged and the stones in the parking lot must be restored, said Sandy Kinney, the local administrator of the site.

“We’re still finding stuff as the water goes away,’’ she said.