* Hit to economy will be "mega-millions of dollars"
* 200 miles (320 km) of roads still closed
* Repair crews scramble ahead of key tourist season
By Scott Malone
LUDLOW, Vt., Sept 2 With Hurricane Irene's
floodwaters mostly gone, work crews across Vermont are
scrambling to reopen roughly 200 miles (320 km) of roads
damaged by the storm before the fall tourist season that is
important to the state's economy.
The arrival of fall will turn Vermont's trees brilliant
shades of red, yellow and orange for a few short weeks, luring
tourists who fan out across the rural state's two-lane highways
to admire the view and spend money in local hotels, restaurants
If the roads are not ready, many worry, the tourists may
"We are approaching the all-important fall foliage season
and then the winter ski season," said Tom Noordewier, an
associate professor of business at the University of Vermont in
Burlington. "Any falloff in visitors would be significant and
have a potential impact that would be damaging."
Tourism accounts for 23 percent of Vermont's employment and
15 percent of overall economic activity.
Economists and state officials said it was too early to
estimate how heavy the economic toll will be. Jeffrey Carr, the
Vermont forecast manager for the New England Economic
Partnership, a regional planning group, said costs would amount
to "mega-millions of dollars."
"The foliage season is a very narrow window ... which is
extremely important to our tourism season and if people think
they are not going to be able to drive around, they will change
their mind and go other places," said Carr, who also advises
the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin.
Some 25 bridges, including river crossings on three major
state highways, remain closed, according to the Vermont Agency
of Transportation's website. Another 30 miles (48 km) of road
were open only to emergency vehicles.
LESS DAMAGE IN NORTH
The remnants of Hurricane Irene dumped roughly 8 inches (20
cm) of rain on the mountainous state on Sunday, swelling rivers
that tore up roadways and flooded homes and businesses.
The damage is confined to isolated pockets, typically the
lowest points of river valleys.
Heavy vehicles and dump trucks are visible across the
state, and authorities say reopening roads is a top priority.
But the widely scattered road closures confound even those
who know the state well.
"You can still get places, but it takes twice as long,"
said Alan Washburn, who owns a business in Brattleboro that
services commercial fire-sprinkler systems.
By the end of the week, state tourism officials had
launched an online marketing campaign to emphasize that the
state remained open for business. They pointed out that the
northern half of the state, including areas around Vermont's
largest city, Burlington, received less storm damage.
"Many of our foliage communities were untouched," said
Vicky Parra Tebbetts, senior vice president of the Vermont
Chamber of Commerce. "People may need to make some careful
choices but it's certainly a safe place to come."
That hope was small consolation for business owners in
towns served by roads that remain largely closed to traffic.
"This weekend is a loss, because they're asking people not
to come up, even though it's Labor Day weekend," said Betsey
Reagan, owner of Dot's Too Diner in West Dover. "I'm not sure
what the fall will be like. I don't know."
(Editing by Eric Beech)