(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Hammers, saws, and nail guns provided the sound of progress in Burlington, Vt. Monday. "There will be summer!" promised businessman Al Gobeille.
Gobeille runs the Breakwater Café and Grill on Lake Champlain. Just a few weeks ago, his popular eaterie was drowning when the water rose to historic heights. Between pounding rain this spring, and melting snow from a long winter, Vermont rivers and lakes were at record levels.
Now, for the first time since April 13, Lake Champlain is below its 100-foot flood stage. That means Gobeille can rebuild. The water literally washed away his bar, and with it, weeks of profits. "We lost a full month, and there's no getting it back," he said.
"We're down below 100 feet," said homeowner Kelley DesLauriers. "It feels good!"
DesLauriers lives on a lakeside street in Colchester, Vt. that was pounded first by the floods, then by waves. Homeowners, businesses, and local governments in many areas in Vermont are now able to apply for federal disaster relief through FEMA. That money will likely only cover some of the costs for DesLauriers' neighbors. "It's heartbreaking to look at the devastation, but it feels like we can finally get started to do something after weeks of scrambling," DesLauriers said.
In all the nuisance driftwood that washed onto lakefront property, there's the potential for power. The city of Burlington will burn it and other all-natural plant material, generating electricity for 10,000 New England homes. If it weren't for the McNeil Generating Plant, the city says a mountain of driftwood might instead be clogging landfills. "It gives homeowners and municipalities a way to get rid of this material at no cost," explained Bill Kropelin, the head forester for the Burlington Electric Department.
Kropelin adds that wood drop-offs cannot contain any pressure-treated, glued, or painted lumber, because that material would release toxic fumes when burned for power.
Back on Burlington's waterfront, Al Gobeille hopes to be back in business next week. He's crossing his fingers that July and August serve his bar and restaurant perfect weather for making back tens of thousands of dollars in losses. "We'll give it our best," he said, smiling.
Flood victims in Vermont's Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Franklin, Lamoille, Orleans, and Washington Counties can contact FEMA at 1-800-621-FEMA or at www.fema.gov to start the application process. The funds are available for spring flood losses suffered through May 9.
In a news release, Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., said more Vermonters may still be able to access funds. "We will continue to push for individual and public assistance for all the counties that suffered as a result of flooding through early June," Shumlin wrote in the release.
Shumlin's office says requests for FEMA funding for private and public property in Washington, Caledonia and Windham Counties resulting from late May rainfall are still pending. So are requests to cover damage to Lake Champlain shoreline properties and infrastructure that occurred after May 9, the news release explained.