It has been three years since Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont and flushed nearly 90,000 fish from the Roxbury hatchery, yet the facility is still waiting on the money needed to restore it to working condition. The hatchery is the oldest in Vermont and raised about 70,000 trout every year—roughly 30 percent of the state’s yearling trout production. Despite its importance to anglers in the state, hatchery officials are having a hard time convincing federal agencies to fund Roxbury’s restoration.
“We anticipated some sort of loss, but not to the extent of what we saw,” Roxbury hatchery supervisor Jeremy Whalen told WCAX.
There is little more than gravel and silt where the hatchery’s ponds once stood, and rubble from shattered concrete barriers. Built in 1891, the Roxbury hatchery was due for modernization before Irene hit, but now the price of both rebuilding the facility and bringing it up to compliance would cost around $4.5 million. According to Vermont Public Radio, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) asked that FEMA pick up 90 percent of the bill in rebuilding the hatchery but the request was denied. The federal agency reasoned that it was not Irene that caused the facility to go out of compliance, therefore the agency sees no need to fund an expensive facility to meet current regulations. The state has since appealed the FEMA decision.
“There are still a lot of fish out there, but for the people who key in on brook trout, that’s obviously a big concern for us,” DFW Fish Culture Operations Chief Adam Miller told the Associated Press.
Miller said regardless of the appeal’s outcome, the state will eventually rebuild the hatchery. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, the Roxbury hatchery contributes an estimated $2.4 million annually to the state of Vermont. After the destruction of Irene, trout production was switched to other hatcheries, yet the DFW is unable to keep some streams from being short on fish. This year the DFW plans to stock about 8,500 trophy-sized trout and 257,600 smaller fish across the state, along with a large number of trout in Lake Champlain.
Anglers are anxious to see the hatchery reopened, but how soon that will happen will depend on whether or not the state receives aid from FEMA.
“I’m confident that the state’s appeal is going to help clear up some misunderstandings why the Clean Water Act is required to rebuild this facility to what it needs to be,” Miller said.