Editorial: Monday Mix on hurricane anniversary, Hadley drama

  • Miguel Cruz, who is the pastor of Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke, speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside his church. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Hadley Planning Board members Joseph Zgrodnik, left, William Dywer, James Maksimoski, John Mieczkowski and Michael Sarsynski during a meeting at the Hadley Senior Center, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 9/24/2018 8:04:13 AM

Hurricane relief. It’s kind of euphemistic, isn’t it? Anyone who has lived through a destructive hurricane knows the havoc it can cause long after the storm has passed — and even when there’s help and aid, it doesn’t always bring relief in the other sense of the word.

On Thursday night, more than 30 people gathered in Holyoke to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which ripped through the island of Puerto Rico and left a wake of destruction, including lasting damage to the island’s infrastructure, an estimated $100 billion in property damage — and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

With the threat of Hurricane Florence earlier this month, President Trump added insult to injury and trauma by denying the death toll, saying that the large number was made up by Democrats “to make me look as bad as possible.”

Well, he didn’t need the Democrats’ help to do that, but this editorial isn’t about the President. It’s about the Puerto Rican people in our community whose lives have been forever changed by that storm. Gazette reporter Bera Dunau spoke with several of the people who turned out for the anniversary event for the Sept. 21 article, “One year on, refugees from Hurricane Maria still need homes.”

Organized by the Pioneer Valley Project and held mostly in Spanish outside Holyoke’s Templo Eben-ezer church, the event was intended to raise awareness around “hurricane refugees” who, displaced by the storm, have moved to the area. One of the key issues raised was the need for permanent housing. Many families have been living in hotels, paid for by state and federal aid, but multiple relatives are often crowded into a single room. A father, Jose Rivera, said he is currently sharing a hotel room with his wife, his daughter, his son, his son’s wife and a baby. For another hurricane refugee, the temporary living situation has made it harder for her to find permanent work.

We recognize the good work of the The Pioneer Valley Project, a coalition of congregations, community groups and labor unions, in drawing attention to these families in need. Tara Parrish, director of the Pioneer Valley Project, emphasized that federal and state funds are respectively finished and running out, but added that lobbying efforts have helped. After displaced families lobbied state officials, a program was created to help them, with up to $8,000 put toward permanent housing per family. As a result, 50 percent of people who were in the hotels are now in permanent housing, she said: “That wouldn’t have happened had these folks not advocated for themselves.”

Hurricane season isn’t over yet, but it’s important to remember the people who have been displaced already, to acknowledge their struggle and to ease it when possible. That work begins by recognizing their right to make a home here permanently.

***

Hadley is no closer to getting its senior center and library projects underway, and the danger of losing half the funding for the library remains.

Last week’s summit meeting between the Hadley Select Board and the Planning Board yielded no solutions to the parking issues in the plans, as members of the Planning Board appeared to entrench themselves in obstructionism (“Hadley officials argue over parking rules for senior center,” Sept. 19). Despite the fact that constituents have voted to approve more funds so that the new senior center will be 12,050 square feet, the only solution the Planning Board has signaled would be acceptable is shrinking the plans by around 2,000 square feet

Redesigning the plans for the senior center would be costly and time consuming, and could push back construction until spring. It’s appalling to consider a way forward that would involve building a senior center that’s smaller than what voters approved for the same $8 million price tag.

One member of the Planning Board, Michael Sarsynski, is set against any motion to use the Dover Amendment (which would exempt the library from parking bylaws because of its educational purpose). Sarsynski said he believed the legal opinion of the lawyer who was representing the American Legion in a lawsuit against the Town of Hadley, who thinks Dover wouldn’t apply to a library, over the three other lawyers who favored Dover’s use in this case.

Furthermore, the Select Board floating the idea of changing Hadley’s zoning bylaws so that municipal buildings could be exempt from parking requirements is not in any way an attempt to use a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” as planner Joseph Zgrodnik said. It seems like a reasonable avenue, when the option of shrinking the senior center building has been rejected by voters and the option of using a state-approved variance has been poo-pooed by the Planning Board.

The last option is fighting it out until time runs out, and losing the $3.9 million in funding that is predicated on breaking ground on the library by January 2020. Hadley officials need to make a choice — and soon.




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