Clarksburg Officials Wary of Planning After East Road Denial

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The Selectmen are reluctant to join a countywide planning initiative without being assured it won't cost them in the end.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Town officials aren't eager to tell the government about any more potential hazards after being penalized hundreds of thousands of dollars for being proactive with the East Road Bridge.

Clarksburg has been invited to join the countywide hazard mitigation plan that could put it in line for federal project money.

But the Selectmen pointed out they had priorized and planned the replacement of a major hazard — plans the Federal Emergency Management Agency then used to deny it funding after Tropical Storm Irene struck.

"We got burned pretty badly," said Selectmen Chairman Carl McKinney at Wednesday's board meeting. "This is my concern, this is my worry and it has to be addressed ... I'm not going down that road again."

Lindsay Errichetto of the Berkshire Regional Regional Planning Commission had been invited back to discuss the hazard planning after first appearing before the board in April. There are 19 municipalities already in the plan and $3,000 each is available for Clarksburg and five other communities join.

"It's not binding, it is a planning document," said Errichetto assured the board. "There are no concrete numbers, there are some broad time lines for identification of projects. Those are to ensure the projects identified in the plan are the ones you seek funding for."

Having the planning document would put the town in line for grants from the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Fund and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, particularly at a time when "substantial" federal money is available in the HMGP fund. Errichetto said the fund waxes and wanes depending on disasters and is currently at a high level.

Lindsay Errichetto said the town could be in line for federal money. Below, the crumbling East Road Bridge damaged by Irene.
The top four project types among local communities are bridges, road/bank stabilizations, culverts and dams.

"It's water related," she said. "It's almost always water related in Berkshire County."

But Errichetto's presentation did nothing to allay the skeptical board members, who were concerned that the planning could again be used against the town.

"That bridge was usable," Selectwoman Lily Kuzia said. "We stopped and saw some signs that it needed repair. ... wanted to look to the future to repair that bridge. Irene came and they denied us."

McKinney said the town had been saving Chapter 90 funds for about five years to fix its roads. It had also hired engineers to determine the most cost-effective way to fix the bridge, which still had a lifespan of about 10 years.

After Irene hit on Aug. 28, 2011, the bridge began to collapse on one side and has been closed since. The town twice appealed to FEMA for funding only to be rejected on the basis of prior planning to repair the structure.

"Hurricane Irene came to our doorstep and washed away our roads so now guess what, we've got $380,000 and $300,000 is getting sucked up by that bridge," said McKinney. "The lesson that told me is don't plan ahead; wait until the last minute until it fails."  

Errichetto said she had heard similar concerns in Franklin County and knew of a project that was denied but had won on appeal. Without knowing the details of what happened with the bridge and FEMA, she said couldn't really speak to it.

However, she said she would look into it for the town and also obtain answers to any other questions. The Selectmen agreed to look over program before making a decision.

In other business, the board:

• Approved at brief public hearing the placement of a "stub" pole as an anchor support for a pole on Walker Street for National Grid. The utility is using the stub poles to replace anchoring in trees, which tend to break.

• Was updated that its tax taking of Berkshire Metal Spinning, 161 River Road, will be heard Sept. 13 in Land Court in Boston. McKinney said the town should make provisions to secure the building after the hearing.

• Was told by Board of Health Chairman Greg Vigna that he would be meeting with North Adams officials about the Berkshire Public Health Alliance. The city is considering staying with the Visiting Nurse Association; Vigna said he also wanted to get cost comparisons.

• Town Administrator Thomas Webb said four or five good candidates had indicated interest in serving on the Finance Committee. The moderator will wait another week before making appointments to give more citizens a chance to apply. McKinney noted that a number of town posts are currently vacant and urged citizens to inquire about them at Town Hall.

Tags: bridge,   BRPC,   FEMA,   hazard mitigation,   Irene,   planning,   

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