ARPA money to aid Western Mass. towns hit by July storms

  • Farley Road in Wendell was damaged by July rainstorms. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Gulf Road in Northfield was repaired in August following storm damage that undermined the pavement. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • North Street in Erving was closed to through traffic in July following rainstorms that undermined a bridge. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • North Street in Erving was closed to through traffic in July following rainstorms. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • HINDS

  • COMERFORD

Staff Writer
Published: 2/1/2022 1:57:35 PM
Modified: 2/1/2022 1:56:05 PM

Millions of dollars in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money has been secured to support towns that were slammed by July rainstorms that and flooded and washed out roads across the region.

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, filed an amendment to the state ARPA spending bill to allocate $7.5 million to “provide extraordinary relief from the impacts of the storms of July 16 to July 18, 2021, inclusive, and July 27, 2021, in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester counties,” according to the amendment. Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, joined Hinds in the effort.

“This money was essential to the many small towns that were suddenly confronted with hundreds of thousands of dollars, in some cases in the millions, that was unanticipated,” Hinds, who is running for lieutenant governor, wrote in an email. “For towns with small budgets to begin with, it was crushing.”

According to Omar Frometa Jr., Hinds’ director of communications, the process for applying for this money has yet to be determined.

Several rainstorms ripped through Franklin County and the North Quabbin region in July, badly damaging roads and racking up a price tag that many small towns in the region cannot pay. For example, Erving’s initial damage assessment totaled $2.6 million, according to a spreadsheet provided by Hinds’ office, while the 2022 fiscal year general operating budget approved at Town Meeting was roughly $5 million.

Erving Town Administrator Bryan Smith said additional funding like this is “critical,” especially because it came after budget season.

“To have a mid-year, multimillion-dollar capital need without any funding sources was definitely hard to process,” Smith said. “It’s not anything we were prepared to fund. Anytime you have an emergency of that nature it forces the town to go back … and reprioritize over these changing circumstances.”

Erving experienced some of the most expensive damage in all of Western Massachusetts as the July 18 storm washed out several roads and damaged the Swamp Road bridge so badly that the town had to remove it. Smith noted that if funding is available, then it will “expedite” the repair process.

In Wendell, which experienced approximately $600,000 worth of damage, Selectboard Chair Dan Keller said the “Highway Department is working around the clock” on repairs and any state help would be appreciated.

“It would be very helpful,” Keller said, “because we did have a lot of damage from that storm and we don’t have a way to pay.”

Damage in Wendell consisted of washed-out roads and culverts, particularly on Farley Road. Keller said other repairs remain in progress.

Towns across Western Massachusetts also were left hanging by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to “a flaw” in the funding formulas used in the agencies’ regulations, according to Hinds at a Jan. 13 event in Chester, where he and Comerford announced the pending $7.5 million allocation.

Smith said Erving was “led down the path” of receiving MEMA or FEMA money, but was eventually told no aid was coming because the state did not meet the threshold required for funding. He added the process has “been quite a roller coaster” and he would like to see the funding formula addressed to better help small towns.

“Disappointing is a huge understatement,” Smith said. “I understand (FEMA) has needs to prioritize as there’s disasters all over the country … but having experienced this process, on behalf of the town I would say we were ignored.”

Keller echoed Smith’s feeling and said he is hopeful the state can secure more money.

“It’s disappointing,” Keller said. “All we can do is hope that the state will step up and try to fill in the gap.”

Hinds said he will be communicating with MEMA to rectify the state funding formula so towns suffering unexpected natural disasters can be assured the state will help.

“We are working to remedy the MEMA approach to disaster relief,” Hinds wrote, “including working with the federal delegation to review the federal guidelines.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.


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