Ship comes in for Deerfield roads: $1.6M grant from state

Crews start to rebuild Lower Road in Deerfield on Aug. 4. The road was cut in half by a small stream during a deluge that swept away a car.

Crews start to rebuild Lower Road in Deerfield on Aug. 4. The road was cut in half by a small stream during a deluge that swept away a car. FILE PHOTO/PAUL Franz

Staff Report

Published: 01-25-2024 11:12 AM

Modified: 01-25-2024 7:06 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Less than a week after Deerfield residents voted to authorize the Select Board to borrow up to $5 million to repair roads ravaged by June flooding, town officials learned the town had topped the list of town recipients of state grants announced by the Healey-Driscoll administration to help municipalities struggling with how to pay for summer storm damages.

Grants totaling $10 million for communities hit by last year’s flooding were announced Saturday, with Deerfield and Conway leading the money list with awards of $1.58 million and $1.245 million, respectively.

Northampton will receive $365,000, while Goshen, Plainfield, Williamsburg, Leverett and Shutesbury have been awarded $20,000 each.

After a close rejection in December, Deerfield voters at a special Town Election on Jan. 16 approved a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion by a vote of 555-458 to pay for more than $2 million in already completed road repairs, while also providing flexibility in addressing unanticipated repairs and additional costs for long-term work on River Road. Voter turnout authorizing the full borrowing was roughly 25.6%, with 1,013 of the town’s 3,983 registered voters casting ballots.

With the windfall from the state — and a reduction in the estimate of how much is needed to fix Deerfield’s roads — the full $5 million will no longer be needed, town officials said.

“We are putting a warrant article (at annual Town Meeting) for the rescinding of the borrowing, but we’re going to leave the exact number blank until we make it through the winter,” Select Board Chair Carolyn Shores Ness said after the grants were announced.

Relief was also evident in Conway, where officials estimate the town suffered about $3 million in flood damages.

“It’s a rare ray of sunshine from the state in our direction … It’s so meaningful, we’re not going to have to increase the tax burden on residents,” Conway Select Board Chair Philip Kantor said.

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Northampton Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said the city sincerely appreciated the administration’s “decisive action” on flood relief, along with local legislators’ dedicated efforts to draw attention to the issue.

“The allocated funds will significantly aid in our recovery efforts from the severe weather events of last year,” Sciarra said in a statement.

Flood impacts in Northampton included damage to roads, fields and facilities at Maines Field and Riverside Drive and damaged culverts and headwalls at several sites.

Speaking at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s annual business meeting Saturday, Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll said the grant awards were the first installment of $15 million included in a supplemental budget finally approved in December. The funds are for municipalities that experienced damage or incurred emergency response costs from extreme weather over the past year.

The first round of grants is being distributed to 37 communities. The remaining $5 million will be released in the springn.

The second Deerfield vote on the borrowing authorization follows a narrow rejection by just four votes on Dec. 5 — 195-191 — in an election that had only 9.8% turnout.

In response to the low turnout, the board scheduled a Jan. 9 information session in an effort to better convey information to residents, while also providing an opportunity for Police Chief and Emergency Management Director John Jr. and Highway Superintendent Kevin Scarborough to speak in an open forum.

Paciorek said at that forum that the town’s $5 million estimate was an initial projection and repairs should end up closer to $3 million. State law requires the election ballot language to match the special Town Meeting warrant language.

“There is no intent to spend $5 million. The $5 million came from my original budget and storm damage estimate,” Paciorek said.

State law allowed the town to hold another election following the first one, as debt-exclusion votes must be approved within 90 days from Town Meeting approval — where the authorization was overwhelmingly supported by more than 200 voters.