Black Brook Road’s future a hot topic

 

By Phil Demers, North Adams Transcript
Posted:   05/02/2012 01:13:15 AM EDT

SAVOY — Town officials, engineers, local politicians and representatives from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) gathered at Town Hall on Tuesday morning to discuss the future of Black Brook Road, a town byway closed since washouts caused by Tropical Storm Irene washed away several sections back in August.

Selectman Scott Koczela led the way, introducing the fiscal bind the damages present for the town to a room packed with more than 20 residents, many whose regular driving patterns have been interrupted by the damage.

Preliminary engineering by Coler & Colantonio, Inc. has estimated repairs and mitigation measures to prevent future damage at a combined cost of at least $2.5 million, just to restore the road to its pre-storm, circa-1940 condition.

“It’s all hinged on funding,” Koczela said, “and how much repairs are going to cost versus what kind of aid we’re looking at and what we can afford to pay as a town. If it comes down to spending [a substantial amount] to open the road back up, then I think it’d have to go up to a town vote.”

Michael Devine, representing FEMA, reiterated the organization’s maxim to support all Irene-related repairs to the tune of 75 percent reimbursement.

“We’re just waiting for the town to tell us what you’re going to do,” Devine said. “Are you going to fix the road or pick another town project?”

Despite this, reimbursement checks often lag 60 to 90 days behind the completion of work, and the town would have to find a way to pay contractors in the meantime, possibly by taking out bonds.

Even at 25 percent, the town’s share of the repairs runs over $500,000 and would add significantly to the tax rate.

A full upgrade to 2012 standards and codes would cost as much as $4 million, but FEMA has no such requirement.

State Rep. Paul Mark provided some solace, saying the legislature was “committed” to rallying for additional aid for hilltowns from the state.

“We want to do this,” Mark said. “I go to these meetings in different towns and they’re all talking about the same thing. We just need to know the total number of towns and requests being made so we have concrete figures to bring to the state.”

However, Koczela added, the decision won’t be easy as bidding out the project with hopes for additional aid and banking on a $2.5 million price tag. Three months — and $200,000 worth — of engineering remains before design completion, and the cost of repairs could still be increased, either by additional engineer findings or higher-than-expected bids from contractors.

Because FEMA only backs engineering costs rolled into a complete project, the town stands to lose $200,000 if the results reveal a project ultimately outside its price range. This puts the town in a dilemma over whether to spring for engineering at all.

Kelly Killeen, an engineer for Coler & Colantonio, Inc., explained the cost:

“We’re not trying to make a Cadillac out there, but we certainly want to design something that’s going to last a long time,” Killeen said.

According to Koczela, the item will be subject to vote at town meeting, and public forums addressing the issue will be held between now and June. He encouraged residents to take an interest and attend.

Those in attendance at Tuesday morning’s meeting agreed — Black Brook Road has been sorely missed. Savoy emergency services are barred from reaching some residents, with Florida taking on the burden. Additionally, the latter town’s residents have lost their key route to Savoy.

But concerns were expressed over the scope of work and potential cost. Town highway personnel contrasted prior methods of patching up roads with today’s engineering, regulations and planning — a more lengthy and expensive process. However, the cost of near-constant repairs to patchwork were also contrasted with the stability of a well-planned and executed repair, which could last many years.

Some residents wanted to know if the road could be opened on a one-lane or limited basis, an option to presumably be further explored in the coming weeks.