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Two years after June 1 tornado Merrick neighborhood still recovering

May 31, 2013
By Carley Dangona


WEST SPRINGFIELD — June 1 marks the second anniversary of the tornado that tore through Western Massachusetts and West Side's Merrick neighborhood is still in the recovery process.

In October 2012, West Springfield was awarded a $141,690 grant from the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to assist with cleanup efforts. Of that appropriation, $21,542 was designated for the cleaning of the storm water system that includes 300 catch basins and 6.2-miles of storm drain, according to a cost estimate report from the Mayor Gregory Neffinger's office.

Rob Colson, director for the Department of Public Works (DPW), addressed the issue of tree removal and restoration in the area. He stated, "Northern Tree Service Inc. from Palmer has been procured to take care of the trees in the Merrick neighborhood." $40,000 of the grant is dedicated to the removal of trees.

Colson said, "From the ground up, the neighborhood is showing signs of progress. From the DPW perspective, we're just getting started underground."

He continued, "Today [May 28] was the DPW's first day inspecting the drain pipes. The first catch basin we inspected was completely collapsed and needs to be replaced." Colson said that the goal was to inspect the basins and remove any leftover debris from the tornado to get the catch basins functional again.

Colson added that the DPW did not expect to find that extent of destruction. He said that the underground inspections of the sewer, drainage and water lines will take "considerable time." He was unable to pinpoint an exact timeframe because the extent of the damage is unknown.

The debris-laden underground line might complicate the town's repaving efforts. Colson explained that before paving occurs, the gas company must turn off service to gas lines prior to paving to prevent accidents. Being so, the gas company has requested that the town provide a list of all roads it anticipates paving within the next five years.

The blocked basins and storm water system delay the creation of that list and therefore the paving projects. Colson explained that the DPW is conscientious of spending its budget as wisely as possible, so it doesn't make sense to pave a road that will have to be torn up to repair the underground water network.

"We're checking our foundation before we build our house," he said.

He noted that the inspection process must be completed by June 30 when the grant money expires. Colson cited videotaping the pipes to document the damage and the work needed as the next step in the inspection.

"Our staff doesn't have the expertise or the equipment to make sewer line repairs," he said of the repairs, adding that the DPW is considering hiring a contractor that specializes in that type of work. "We're looking at all options," he said."

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