2 fish hatcheries in Vermont, 1 federal, 1 state, still closed 4 years after damaged by Irene

Four years after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene nearly destroyed Vermont's fish hatchery in Roxbury, officials still are looking for the estimated $5 million it would take to rebuild it to meet modern standards.

Meanwhile, a hatchery on the White River in Bethel owned by the federal government is closed although it was nearly fully repaired after Irene. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut it down after moving its Atlantic salmon restoration program to the Connecticut River.

The loss of the state hatchery means fewer recreational fishing options for residents and visitors. With the Roxbury hatchery out of operation, the state is 20 percent to 30 percent short of the number of "catchable" trout — those roughly in the 8- to 10-inch range — stocked each year in the state's rivers and streams, said Adam Miller, Vermont's fish culture operations manager.

"We are committed to rebuilding the hatchery 100 percent," he said. "We want to rebuild the hatchery, we just need to figure out where we stand with FEMA and then get the hatchery constructed."

With the end of the Atlantic salmon program and the reopening of a Pennsylvania hatchery, it was too expensive to continue using the White River hatchery, said Sherry White, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's assistant regional director for fish and aquatic conservation.

"White River is a large-scale production facility, and our current needs are small-scale production," White said. "We've been able to accommodate those needs at other natural fish hatcheries in the region with just incremental increases to their operational costs."

Vermont has appealed a decision from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to not help pay the cost of rebuilding the Roxbury facility to meet modern quality standards, Miller said.

Once financing is arranged, it would take about a year to rebuild the hatchery, he said.

The Roxbury hatchery, built in 1891, is Vermont's oldest, Miller said. It produced brook and rainbow trout. He estimates the Roxbury hatchery contributed about $2.4 million a year to the state economy.

Irene hit Vermont four years ago Friday.

The White River National Fish Hatchery in Bethel underwent millions of dollars of repairs after Irene. Once officials decide what to do with it, it could be brought into operation quickly, White said.

After decades of trying to restore Atlantic salmon in the Connecticut River watershed, the federal government decided three years ago to give up on the program.

White wouldn't speculate about whether the decision to mothball White River would have been made had it not been damaged by Irene. She said her agency is working with a number of Northeastern states to find a new role for the White River hatchery.

"Using White River for small-scale production is cost prohibitive," White said. "So that's why we continue to work with our partners to look at needs, where we could have a joint mission for that facility."