From the Burlington Free Press:
As Lake Champlain’s high water and waves fragmented sections of the causeway pedestrian trail between Colchester and South Hero on Thursday afternoon, caretakers of the old rail line pondered its salvage costs, and its enduring value.
“There’s nothing can be done to protect it anymore. It can’t put up a fight against the waves,” said Mike Wichrowski, who administers the northern, state-owned segment for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
Repairs will not be cheap to this half-mile section, he said. The lake has breached the structure in several places, and deeply gouged many others.
Although the outlook is dismal, Wichrowski and others are looking at longer-term cost-benefits. The causeway’s annual worth to the regional economy exceeds $1 million, according to a 2010 study conducted by the University of Vermont Transportation Research Center.
In the absence of an operating budget — and as a prelude to possible federal aid — Wichrowski is rushing to calculate a dollar figure for damage. His deadline is this afternoon.
It’s a challenging task, he said, considering that the lake’s record-high flooding obscures most of the structural damage.
Variables complicate the formula: Experts predict floodwaters will be slow to recede and wind-driven waves will remain a serious threat to shorelines for the foreseeable future.
Wichrowski’s had a recent look at old engineering plans for this section of the trail. They pin the causeway’s elevation at 103.5 feet: fewer than six inches above the current lake level.
He’s also rushing to calculate the scope of repairs to submerged and partially submerged boat-access sites around the lake.
“I have no idea how this will shake out,” he said. “It could break the bank.”
By Thursday afternoon, he ventured a very rough guess for the north spur of the Island Line trail: “Easily tens of thousands of dollars.”
Three miles south
The trail on the southern side of the watery gap in the causeway is owned by Colchester. It extends about three miles into mostly unprotected open lake before winding south toward Winooski and Burlington.