Not a single North Berkshire community escaped the wrath of Tropical Storm Irene when the downgraded hurricane arrived in the area on Aug. 28.
Its flow of torrential rains caused local waterways to swell, washing out roadways and properties and prompting evacuations in low-lying areas. Many homeowners had to deal with flooded basements or waterlogged homes, and some even found themselves cut off from their communities.
The two main roadways leading north and east out of North Adams, Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) and Route 8 (River Road in Clarksburg), were closed because of issues ranging from washouts and slope failures to bridge damage and mudslides.
All 273 residents of The Spruces MobileHome Park in Williamstown were displaced after the Hoosic River jumped a berm on the northeast side of the park, inundating the entire retirement community. The Hoosic River ended up cresting at 13.75 feet, well above its flood stage of 9 feet.
Residents living on Davis and Charles streets in Adams found themselves cut off from the rest of the town when a culvert and bridge washed out. A collapsed culvert on East Road near Lime Street in Adams left residents with only one way into North Adams, while those living near the collapse had to travel to North Adams in order to get down into Adams. Work at the intersection is ongoing and the road is expected to reopen by Jan. 9.
The Williamstown Theatre Festival's prop storage space in the Blackinton Mill in North Adams was flooded with 10 feet of muddy water, damaging or destroying over 50 years worth of items.
The storm also pushed back the first day of school for Clarksburg, Florida and Stamford, Vt.
When it was all over, the region had sustained millions of dollars worth of damage, with the largest price tag going to an impassable Mohawk Trail. On Sept. 31, Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials announced the start of a $34.5 million project torepair damaged sections the Mohawk Trail in North Adams, Florida, Savoy and Charlemont. They stated that a six-mile stretch of road between North Adams and Charlemont would be opened by Dec. 15 -- a goal that was accomplished.
The Department of Transportation was able to reopen River Road in Clarksburg by mid-September.
While communities began cleaning up and assessing the damage in the days following Irene, Williamstown faced the situation of having about 1 percent of its population homeless and 5 percent of its affordable housing gone.
As Spruces residents were allowed back into the park to collect personal belongings the day after the storm, the American Red Cross set up a shelter at St. John's Episcopal Church, and the First Congregational Church-United Church of Christ stepped up to help residents with the immediate expenses of food, shelter and other basic necessities.
The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency arrived in town a few days later, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency set up shop after President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration for Berkshire and Franklin counties on Sept. 4.
The first two families were allowed to move back into The Spruces almost two weeks after the storm hit, and as of Dec. 22, 59 of the park's 225 homes had been approved for occupancy, while demolition permits had been issued for another 59.
Meanwhile, about 30 residents of Columbia, Burt and Pine streets in Adams attended an Adams Selectmen meeting to voice their concerns and frustration over flooded basements and damaged property resulting from a nearby brook backing up during Irene.
The town has since cleaned out the brook, and plans to establish a schedule to maintain it.
Adams officials also had to contend with several other storm-related issues, including repairs needed to reconnect Charles and Davis streets to the rest of the town, the collapsed culvert on East Road near Lime Street, mudslides on East Road at Walling Road and on Upper East Hoosac Street, and cleanup of the Tophet Brook and Hoosic River flood chutes.
Florida, Savoy, Cheshire and North Adams officials had mostly to deal with roadway damage in the wake of Irene, and projects to repair some of those roadways will continue into 2012.
The Hoosac Water Quality District had to dish out $214,250 to repair three sections of riverbank along the Hoosic River in order to protect a 42-inch sewer line carrying wastewater from North Adams and parts of Clarksburg to the wastewater treatment plant in Williamstown. The Natural Resources Conservation Service will pay 75 percent of the cost of those repairs.
Hoosac Water Quality District officials are also probing damage to 600 feet of steel sheeting covering a section of river bank around the wastewater treatment plant.
The Selectmen in Adams and Clarksburg approved deficit spending following Irene so repairs could get under way, and the North Adams City Council gave its final approval last week for the city to borrow $2.2 million for repairs related to Irene.
North Berkshire communities are also expected to get 75 percent reimbursements from FEMA for expenses related to Irene.
In addition, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is expected to chip in on some of the projects, as are other state and federal funds.
Since Irene, discussions in Williamstown about replacing the housing lost at The Spruces have been plentiful.
Berkshire Housing Development Corp. and the board of directors of the Williamstown Elderly Housing Corp. announced in November that they had begun planning for the development of about 20 to 25 new affordable elderly housing units at Proprietors Fields, and the Williamstown Affordable Housing Committee has begun exploring options for more low-cost housing in town.
In addition, a nonprofit, Higher Ground, was formed in October to help meet the immediate and unmet needs of Spruces residents, and to advocate for more affordable housing in North Berkshire.
To reach Meghan Foley,