Saturday June 15, 2013

Flooding at Wahconah Park has been going on for decades, as has talking about what to do about flooding at Wahconah Park. Realistically, there is no solution. Wahconah Park has to be phased out of use -- which isn’t news either.

Pittsfield spent $700,000 on improvements to the park and parking lot four years ago, which was designed not to prevent flooding but to reduce the impact of flooding. As is explained in Tony Dobrowolski’s story in today’s Eagle, actually solving the flooding problem, if even possible, would be prohibitively expensive. Because the park is located entirely within the 100-year flood plain of the west branch of the Housatonic River, any major flood control measures would necessitate jumping through a variety of local, state and federal hoops, and the flooding problem could end up being transferred to someone’s backyard downstream.

The long-outdated ballpark should have been sent to its reward with gratitude 14 years ago when a plan for a new ballpark emerged to preserve the city’s New York-Penn League franchise and give downtown a jolt. The plan, however, succumbed to the destructive combination of political paranoia and misplaced nostalgia. The city lost Major League affiliated baseball, and the Pittsfield Suns’ amateur franchise is badly hampered by its Wahconah Park home. The Suns’ season is short, and double-headers and games lost entirely to flooding will hurt financially.

The stars will more than likely never align again to produce a new ballpark of the caliber needed to attract a Major League affiliated franchise, but the city at least must do better by the high school teams stuck with Wahconah Park. Construction of a baseball-football park to accommodate those teams, and perhaps soccer and lacrosse as well, has been discussed in passing but never seriously. Perhaps it will in the upcoming Pittsfield election campaign. A city moving forward can’t be stuck forever in the muck and mire of Wahconah Park.