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Popular Vt. Rec Path Offline Following Severe Weather

With the start of the summer travel season right around the corner, a popular destination on the Vermont side of Lake Champlain is out of commission for now, following a damaging wind storm.

The normally-busy Colchester Causeway now looks more like Swiss cheese than a recreation path, with washouts and ruts from recent severe weather. Its surface is gone in some places.

The "Causeway Closed" signs come as sad sights for visitors, who are used to more active scenes at the destination.

Bikers, joggers and walkers love the causeway for the unique experience of traveling a path that takes you across the lake.

"This whole causeway – 3.5 miles looking left and right, you've got water – it's just a wonderful feeling having water all around you," Peg Clement of Local Motion said in an necn feature on the causeway in June 2016.

When asked by necn Thursday if many people are disappointed by the causeway’s closure, Glen Cuttitta, the head of the Colchester Parks & Recreation Department, said, "I think it's not just the Colchester community, but looking at the causeway as a whole, it's a regional, state, and national treasure. People come from all over the country and Vermont to utilize this resource."

The damage came earlier this month when Lake Champlain was at flood stage and a powerful storm brought 40 and 50 mile per hour winds, with even stronger gusts creating the kind of waves you'd expect on ocean coastlines more than freshwater lakes.

"You had these four, five, six-footers, maybe even higher, that broke over [the edge of the causeway], and it's the crashing wave effect, as a lot of people know on coastal New England, that causes the damage," said Scott Whittier of the National Weather Service.

Thursday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with state and local officials, toured the causeway and other places impacted by that May 4 storm.

The damage assessments were aimed at tallying the costs from the storm to public property and public utilities, to see if Vermont meets the threshold to qualify for federal repair aid.

The threshold is roughly $1 million, said Erica Bornemann, the director of Vermont Emergency Management.

Early estimates showed a $1.8 million hit, Bornemann noted, with the causeway alone nearly a third of that.

"It's so important to the recreational economy of that area," Bornemann said of the causeway. "And we want to ensure that they can recover effectively and in a timely manner in time for the summer season."

Assuming FEMA verifies that Vermont has met the damage threshold, ultimately, it'll be up to President Donald Trump to approve or deny disaster aid to the state.

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