Two local municipalities are nearly through penning the most recent chapter in their respective histories -- one that could rightly be titled "When the Floodwaters Came."
For the past year, Adams and Savoy officials have had their sights set on repairing wreckage caused by Tropical Storm Irene. Both communities, and Northern Berkshire as a whole, were also affected by extensive damage to a six-mile stretch of Route 2 running from eastern Florida to Charlemont, with much of the work being needed along Savoy's border with Florida. The roadway, riddled with collapses and mudslides in the storm, reopened in December after a $23 million project helmed by the state Department of Transportation and several contractors.
But now in each town, the purview has narrowed to one project -- for Adams, an impassable bridge, and for Savoy, a closed road.
A special town meeting Administrator Jonathan Butler hopes to schedule for this fall looks to be the solution to the impassable bridge at the intersection of Charles and Lime streets.
Since the disaster, Charles Street's roughly 35 residents have accessed their homes by way of Davis Street. Town Meeting will decide whether a $200,000 bridge replacement or a similarly-priced insertion of an open-bottomed box culvert is in order. A cheaper, complete removal of the bridge is also on the table.
Regarding Adams' total response to Irene -- including, most notably, repairs to the now-open East Road, which was rendered impassable after the storm -- Butler spoke frankly.
"The complete process runs smoothly if you have good officials and good point people representing the agencies above you," Butler said. "We have a good local team and it helped in making our response successful."
He said a mock emergency situation played out by town officials and emergency responders before the storm, in February, 2011, prepared the whole lot for an "all the king's horses and all the king's men" response.
"We took that training and applied it," Butler said. "It worked very well."
Thomas Satko, the town's Department of Public Works Director, reflected on the immediate aftermath recently.
"Our primary role [during the storm] was the safety of the people -- keeping the roads open and stopping houses and properties from being damaged," Satko said.
Since then, a concerted effort from the town, and particularly Satko, to pursue reimbursements from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state has driven the town's Irene-related-debt down to a figure lower than any official's rosiest figures during months prior. Satko attributed this success to a wildcard:
"Because we had a mild winter, I was able to spend most of it making phone calls, sending emails and doing paperwork with state and federal agencies," he said.
Satko also said emergency procurement permitted by Massachusetts Department of Transportation after the storm "fast-tracked everything," allowing work to be done with "a lot lower costs and a quicker timeframe."
Adams' total Irene debt is roughly $700,000 -- a figure that includes the estimated $500,000 Hoosic River dredging project deemed necessary before the storm, set to go to bid in two weeks. Satko said the town still awaits a nearly $200,000 reimbursement check from FEMA for East Road's repair project.
Butler also used the year anniversary to comment on the Department of Environmental Protection's new environmental guidelines and permitting process, weighing these measures -- which invariably swell the cost of projects -- against the public good of being able to complete projects quickly without breaking municipal banks.
"I think we're at a point where everybody is struggling -- municipal economies, state economies and the entire country's economy -- and one thing we can do is take a look at DEP guidelines and see how practical they really are," Butler said. "[The guidelines and regulations] come with good intentions but an unintended consequence is they've contributed to a culture of infrastructure neglect in the commonwealth."
On Savoy's side of the coin, Black Brook Road -- a key byway to Florida and the Mohawk Trail -- remains a question mark. Engineers Coler and Colantonio, Inc. estimated a cost of $2.5 million to repair the road to pre-storm condition back in May. FEMA has continuously reiterated its pledge to cover 75 percent of the project, but the remaining $500,000 expense to the town still threatens to raise the tax rate significantly.
Selectmen's Chair John Tynan said recently that DEP, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Conservation Com mission are still collaborating with town officials to put forth recommendations for the project and establish environmental impact guidelines.
"There's also several state representatives and senators working to help us," Tynan said. Officials hold out hope that this could lead to additional funding.
In other Irene-related business, the town Highway Department will set to work in the coming weeks to repair two culverts on Route 116 that were damaged by the storm. Thanks to a $35,000 grant from the Federal Highway Admin istration and the town-generated crew, these repairs will come at no cost to Savoy taxpayers.
To reach Phil Demers, email firstname.lastname@example.org.