Take My Council, Please: The Zeal of the Culvert…
The Springfield City Council met for a quickie meeting Monday night, largely to approve financial items. Nothing on the agenda yielded controversy and few items had much discussion. Even the authorization of a lease longer than three years—for a piece of fire equipment—prompted more whimsy than dry analysis.
If there was any exception, it was the authorization to deficit-spend to repair the Abbe Brook Culvert. The tunnel carrying the aforementioned stream through East Springfield and Liberty Heights failed last month. This failure in turn severed a water main that prompted the boil order the Springfield Water & Sewer Commission (SWSC) issued during the city preliminary on September 12.
Councilors Malo Brown, Lavar Click-Bruce, Maria Perez and Tracye Whitfield participated remotely. Councilors Sean Curran and Victor Davila were absent.
Previewing the ease of the finance-heavy agenda, Finance Committee Chair Timothy Allen indicated that no items should have trouble passing. However, he said, several councilors had questions. Health & Human Services Committee chair Zaida Govan also detailed a recent meeting. Indeed, the subject of that meeting was the safety of city water. Staff and commissioners from the SWSC were on hand to answer questions about the earlier boil order and longstanding contaminant concerns.
Acting Chief Administrative & Financial Officer Pat Burns, who remains the Comptroller, presented the August Revenue/Expenditure report. Burns had previously noted that during July, expenditures became disproportionately high due to a pension fund payment early in the fiscal year. That has lingered into the August report. The Council accepted the report unanimously.
Springfield Library Director Molly Fogarty presented an $80,000 grant from the Library Foundation. It will fund new sound systems for city libraries. She said that four branches—Brightwood, Central, Forest Park, Mason Square—would receive upgrades. Councilors approved the grant without dissent.
The body accepted a $5,000 grant for animal control without discussion.
The Council greenlit the transfer of a plot of land near Pine Point on Morton Street for $7,000. Robert DeMusis from the Office of Housing said the buyer intends to use this plot and others he owns to build homes. He will also extend Morton Street south to Grape Street. Councilor Click-Bruce, who as Ward 5 councilor represents the area, announced his support. He added that the developer had met with the neighborhood council.
Fire Commissioner B.J. Calvi presented the request for a six-year lease for a new heavy-duty aerial tower (ladder) truck. Such longer leases tends to provide savings for the city. Calvi indicated that the incumbent vehicle is all but in mothball status. The new truck will replace one dating to 1996. Councilors had little to add beyond wishing they could see what it looks like. The six-year lease term passed.
The Council also approved the quarterly $170,304 from Comcast, which finances public access.
The final item was approval of deficit spending to repair the Abbe Brook culvert. Massive rainfall on and before September 11 led to the culvert’s failure. Public Works czar Chris Cignoli said that cleanup had already begun. The total cost of the project is projected to be under $6 million.
Cignoli said the city is working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The state will be seeking federal recovery dollar as part of a larger wave of storm damage statwide. He added that the city is in line to receive 80-100% reimbursement depending on the work.
Ward 2 Councilor Michael Fenton, who represents the area, noted that the Council had recent approved grants for use of land nearby. He urged coordination with DPW as both projects move forward.
While last time it did not need to deficit spend, weather-related damage is not new in Springfield. A retaining wall on Dickinson Street collapsed in 2018 requiring emergency attention. While the tornado got the most attention, severe weather, usually in the form of excess rainfall, batters the city of Springfield more often.
Of course, no one event is the fault of climate change. But the more the planet warms, the more moisture the atmosphere can hold.
When it reaches a saturation point over New England, it becomes increasingly likely to inundate Springfield during subsequent deluges.