Deerfield officials brace for millions in road repairs

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 08-07-2023 3:37 PM

DEERFIELD — As the calendar flips to August and the town assesses the impact from July’s rainstorms, officials updated residents late last week on damage to the roads.

At a special Select Board meeting Thursday, Highway Superintendent Kevin Scarborough laid out a laundry list of roads that were severely damaged by extensive flooding on July 10, 16 and 21. Several areas are still closed due to washouts.

“We’re trying to stabilize the town first,” Scarborough said of his department’s approach to road repairs. He emphasized that it’s important residents know his department is getting roads to an accessible state and working on a process called “compaction” before paving to improve road performance and keep drivers safe.

Among the roads most affected include Lower, McClelland Farm, Pine Nook, Upper, Hoosac, Little Meadow, Depot and River roads, as well as Pleasant Avenue. Scarborough described many of these situations with a single word: “nightmare.”

The town is also continuing to discover new problem areas in the wake of the flooding. Residents are asked to be patient while the Highway Department makes repairs.

“Stuff is still rearing its ugly head,” Scarborough said when mentioning a new issue on Steam Mill Road. “They’re just popping up all over the place.”

Additionally, any projects Scarborough had lined up this summer will have to be pushed back to 2024 due to the number of roads needing attention.

“Anything I planned on doing this summer has been backlogged to next year,” he said. “It’s gone.”

Funding concerns

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Beyond the practical implications of closed roads and detours, the town is also bracing for a hefty price tag for repairs. An updated assessment given Thursday estimates the work to cost approximately $4.7 million, which is “just the beginning, to make sure roads are open,” according to Select Board Chair Carolyn Shores Ness. The town’s operating budget for fiscal year 2024 is $17.48 million.

To begin to pay for the repairs, the Select Board voted to authorize emergency spending up to that amount, but will seek other funding sources before reaching into the town’s budget.

“We’re trying to stabilize and open the roads ourselves,” Shores Ness said. “I don’t want taxpayers to freak out. It’s going to be tough, but we’re trying to stay on top of this and make sure we don’t take this on.”

Select Board member Trevor McDaniel expressed concern about more than $4 million in town spending and said town officials will need to seek funding from state partners.

“My biggest fear right now is how much money is going out and how we’re going to pay for it,” he said. “We need to be talking with our legislators about money because we need to pay for some of this stuff by June 30 next year. There’s no way we can afford it.”

On a long-term scale, Shores Ness said the town is looking at an estimated $18 million worth of engineering and improvements to roads to make them climate-resilient. With such a high price, Shores Ness said they will be working with state Sen. Jo Comerford and Rep. Natalie Blais, whom she added were extremely helpful in dealing with flooding on Routes 5 and 10 in 2021.

Federal money also may be in play. Following U.S. Sen. Ed Markey’s visit to Deerfield on Aug. 2, Shores Ness explained the Northeast Association of Conservation Districts was set to meet Monday and she is hopeful it will be making a request for federal funding for New England. One avenue she’d like the association to explore is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Program, which supplies federal resources to communities after natural disasters.

The town is planning to partner with Eaglebrook School to pursue a Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If received, the federal government will pay for 75% of the costs, including engineering and permitting, and Deerfield would be on the hook for the remaining portion.

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