GEORGIA – Earlier this week, the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain invited Vermont’s Secretary of Natural Resources Julie Moore and Secretary of Transportation Joe Flynn to visit their Deer Brook project site, where the organization is exploring improvements that could mitigate highway runoff from one of Georgia’s busiest intersections.

The project site is largely focused on a gully carved into the space behind Georgia’ Interstate Auto Service, where several decades of runoff from Georgia’s South Village area have ripped a 20- to 25-foot gully into the ground that funnels water into Deer Brook.

That water then feeds the Lamoille River before eventually emptying into Lake Champlain.

Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), an area water management advocacy group, is pursuing the project with Stone Environmental, a Montpelier-based environmental consulting firm with experience in the region.

Stone Environmental previously identified the gully as a high priority in Georgia for stormwater management in a 2013 study conducted with FNLC.

At that time, Secretary Moore was the Water Resources Group Leader at Stone Environmental.

The current planning process is looking to map improvements to the stormwater infrastructure currently feeding water into the gully.

Drainage infrastructure traces Route 7 in Georgia’s South Village district, with drains situated at the bottom of a series of ditches carved into the landscape abutting Route 7. That water drains into a pipe system leading to a catch basin. The catch basin then drains through a 24-inch drain perched over the gully.

During storms or intense snow melts, those ditches along Route 7 will flood. As water levels increase, the water pressure forcing water into the drainage system does as well. The result, Stone Environmental specialists said, was a rush of water shooting out the gully’s drain and ripping apart the gully’s banks.

According to Bethany Remmers, the assistant director of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC), improvements will likely be needed sooner rather than later, as the Town of Georgia considers the South Village a growth center.

Stone Environmental’s Amy Macrellis and FNLC’s Kent Henderson walk Sec. Julie Moore and Sec. Joe Flynn through their planning for the Deer Brook gully.

“We’re trying to plan for future development, understanding that stormwater is an issue now and going to be an issue in the future,” Remmers said.

FNLC’s exploration of the Deer Brook gully is happening concurrently to a larger transportation master plan for the whole of the South Village District. While that plan is focused primarily on traffic infrastructure, NRPC and the Town of Georgia are approaching it with economic growth in mind.

The proposal from FNLC and Stone Environmental would raise drainage grates along Route 7 above the ground. Slits would be carved into those cement spouts, allowing for water to more slowly enter the drainage system rather than flood over the grate.

The sprout’s maximum height would still rest below the road and would still be topped with a metal grate, meaning intense rainfalls and snow melts wouldn’t fill the ditches along the side of the road and flood Route 7.

The area where the pipe currently drains into the gully would be lined with stones and rerouted to be better integrated into the flow of the gully. With changes to the drainage sites, water should flow through the pipe more slowly even in a storm, mitigating erosion along the gully’s banks.

Stone Environmental’s Amy Macrellis compared it to “having more control over the firehose” that drained into the gully.

According to Stone Environmental, they hope to have as much room as possible along Route 7 for improvements, and to include those plans in their own planning.

“I think we want to understand, to the extent that we can, what future impacts there could be on the transportation infrastructure and the swales associated with that,” said Macrellis. “If we can oversize things, we do, to the extent that that’s reasonable.”

Macrellis said Stone and FNLC have explored several options for managing the gully, including filling the gully in. That option would require extending the drainage pipe further into the gully, with soil built up on top. The gully would be filled to height of its neighboring parking lots.

Filling the gully, Macrellis said, would have cost taxpayers $380,000. There would also still be a simple pipe emptying the drainage system and another 300 feet of gully left unimpacted.

“I don’t know if we’d impact anything ecologically,” Macrellis said.

The proposed improvements to the current drainage system would have a greater impact on erosion and pollution in the gully and nearby brook.

Water currently running through the gully during a storm surge is a thick gray, Macrellis said.

There were also concerns with the physical erosion of the gully. Already chunks of asphalt careen over the gully’s side from the nearby parking lot. Trees, some of them still alive, have collapsed over the gully as the soil holding them up washed away.

“Other things are more important than phosphorous,” Moore said from the parking lot overlooking the gully.

The gully itself, she added, barely existed before VTrans improved and expanded Route 7 to accommodate the increased traffic from I-89.

It was the addition of drainage during that process that created the water system draining into the gully, according to Macrellis. Following the expansion, a few decades of runoff pouring through the drainage system carved out the current gully.

The South Village area is a challenging area for stormwater management, FNLC president Kent Henderson told Secretaries Moore and Flynn.

Because the area lacks a proper wastewater treatment system, much of its wastewater is routed into mound systems that dot the landscape. Soils are also less permeable in the South Village area.

The South Village continues to add impermeable surface and runoff sources as well, with Henderson citing expected development at the recently purchased Georgia Homestead campground.

The next steps for the project would require meetings between state officials, FNLC and Stone Environmental to coordinate planning with VTrans and the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR).

Stone Environmental, Macrellis suggested, might not be in the best place to move into the next phase of planning depending on which sources of funding they pursue and what role VTrans might take in the project.

While the grant funding this project slated Stone for 100 percent of the design process, should the project include funding sources requiring VTrans planning or municipal planning Stone isn’t set up for, Macrellis said it might be better to turn some of the planning over to the state.

Those meetings would have to happen sooner rather than later, she told Flynn.

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