LENOX -- The two-month tab for storm-damage cleanup has soared past $400,000, according to Town Manager Christopher Ketchen.

Department of Public Works personnel costs, materials, and outside contractors hired to shore up sagging roadways and walkways -- especially in the low-lying Lenox Dale village along the Housatonic River -- contributed to the bill, he told The Eagle on Thursday.

The harsh weather was a "catalyst" in pumping up plans to upgrade the town's "Code Red" emergency alert system, which notifies residents by phone and text messages about severe conditions, said Ketchen.

Either the entire town or specific neighborhoods now can be targeted for alerts as needed, Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Dan Clifford told the Select Board on Wednesday night. He recalled the days when a fire whistle was the only way to notify the community that "something was going on," even though residents didn't know exactly what it was.

Clifford commented that in his 33 years in the fire department, and as chief since 1998, "the storms that we've been receiving this year are unprecedented. We've been inundated. I hope residents understand that emergency services and the DPW have been doing their best to restore things to a normal state. But unfortunately, we get halfway through a repair and we have another storm that comes through and sets us back."

According to National Weather Service data at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, rainfall in June and July was the heaviest for that two-month period on record, while July's 9.


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23 inch total was the fourth-highest one-month deluge since airport observations began in 1938.

"We're dealing with multiple storms that crossed fiscal years," Ketchen said. The worst one, a record-setting torrential downpour, dumped 4 inches of rain -- a full month's worth -- on the area during six hours on the evening of June 25.

The town will recover some of the costs through lower-than-expected bids for scheduled, pre-storm repaving contracts, said Ketchen.

"We were running a normal operation until things stopped being normal," he commented. "We'll have to tighten our belts for everything that happened after July 1 in order to make our budget for this year."

The cleanup from June 25 continued for two weeks, complicated by the onslaught of storms in July.

Overall, Ketchen acknowledged, "we're looking really good" on finances, "but we would have looked even better in the previous fiscal year if we didn't have these storms."

But he characterized the impact of the storms as "dire" because of "other infrastructure demands we would have preferred to deploy those resources towards, and now we can't."

The "Code Red" enhancements, Clifford explained, allow the town to send out as many notifications as necessary, with no cap on the annual total of minutes used. "This is not to say we're going to abuse it and inundate the residents with a bunch of notices," he said, "but we do want to be able to keep them informed of road closures, water main breaks" and other urgent
situations.

So far, 3,500 phone numbers are listed with the town to receive the alerts, he said.

Townspeople can sign up online by registering their landlines, cellphones and email addresses at www.townoflenox.com or www.lenoxfire.com.

Those without web access can call (413) 637-2347. They can select emergency only if they don't want general information such as road paving announcements.

There's also a free Code Red app that can be downloaded for smartphone and tablet users so they get emergency alerts locally or wherever they are traveling.

Ketchen saluted the work of DPW crews as well as fire and police employees-- "everybody who gets up at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to respond has worked really hard. They respond to difficult situations and make all of our lives easier. This has been really tough on them and their families -- they're cleaning up so the rest of us can have passable roads and be safe on them."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto