The Recorder – State wires storm damage relief funds to towns hit by July storms
Several towns in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region are receiving an extra infusion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money from the state government in response to severe storms in July 2021 that washed out and flooded roads.
Each town will receive the funding without any additional paperwork or application process as the money will be wired directly to the towns by the Division of Local Services, according to a letter written by state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and addressed to the Deerfield Selectboard. Money was transferred to towns on April 6.
The $7.5 million allocation to towns across western Massachusetts comes from an amendment to the state ARPA spending bill that was filed by Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. Comerford joined Hinds in the effort.
Municipalities across Franklin County are grateful the money has been awarded because many towns’ budgets could not cover the immense repair costs in that moment and have been preparing to ask residents at Annual Town Meetings this year to cover the deficits.
“It was hugely important. We’re having a hard time balancing our budget,” said Deerfield Selectboard member Carolyn Shores Ness of the $376,511 the town received from the state. “What we’re going to do is use $90,000 toward the damages we already fixed and paid out for. … That $90,000 was on our warrant and it was wonderful because we took it off.”
In Deerfield, Shores Ness said the remaining $286,511 will go into a savings account that the town will match with a possible hazard mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If the grant is secured, then extensive repairs on River and Pine Nook roads will be undertaken.
For Warwick, Town Coordinator David Young said the $662,902 the town is receiving is “quite important” as it was slammed by the July storms. Specifically, he said Chestnut Hill Road has some “pretty spectacular” damage. Flower Hill Road also experienced significant damage.
“It’d be more concise to tell you what roads didn’t get damaged,” Young said. “We have plenty of repairs yet to make.”
Young said the Selectboard will meet Monday night to discuss where, specifically, the funding should be allocated. He noted he did not have any “definitive” projects in mind, but some of the money will be going to projects that have already been completed.
“I will be recommending, if there aren’t any rules for this money, that it get devoted to road repairs and road repairs only,” Young said. “Our repairs to date, while permanent, have not made us whole.”
Northfield received $560,280 from the state and will be using that money to “cover the deficits” of repairs that have already been made, according to Town Administrator Andrea Llamas.
“It’s paying for the projects that already occurred,” Llamas said. “The money was spent and we were very disappointed that FEMA wasn’t going to reimburse us.”
Towns across western Massachusetts were left hanging by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and 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 presented the $7.5 million.
Hinds wrote in an email in January that he plans to communicate with MEMA to rectify the state funding formula so small towns can be assured unexpected natural disasters will be covered.
Llamas said Gulf and Four Mile Brook roads in Northfield were the two areas most damaged in town as the storms washed out sections of the roads. Northfield experienced an estimated $1.6 million worth of damages, according to a spreadsheet provided by Hinds’ office in January.
“It was quite a bit of damage,” Llamas said. She added that, without this money, residents would have been asked to cover the expenses at Annual Town Meeting.
The following Franklin County and North Quabbin towns were awarded money: Deerfield, $376,511; Erving, $881,645; Greenfield, $50,000; Leverett, $35,000; Phillipston, $365; Montague, $82,574; New Salem, $15,000; Northfield, $560,280; Orange, $129,000; Royalston, $160,000; Shutesbury, $9,187; Warwick, $662,902; Wendell, $204,844; and Heath, $12,964.
Chris Larabee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4081.