Asbestos removal underway at devastated Spruces Mobile Home Park

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Asbestos abatement is underway at the Spruces Mobile Home Park on Route 2, which is scheduled to be fully decommissioned this year.

Workers in hazardous material protective gear began work this week on the former recreation and apartment buildings in the community, which suffered severe flooding during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The town acquired the park in 2014.

The apartment building already has been torn down; the recreation building will be demolished in the coming days.

Of the more than 270 people who lived at the Spruces before Tropical Storm Irene, only about 10 residents remain, according to Town Manager Jason Hoch.

The town anticipates all remaining residents — most of whom plan to move into the under-construction Highland Woods housing when it becomes available — will be out of the park by the end of February.

"We may hit an issue with someone relocating that's just a timing issue of weather," Hoch said, "but for us the thing is everything has a plan, and that's a pretty big accomplishment."

Tropical Storm Irene dumped torrents of rain in the Northern Berkshires in August 2011, flooding the park and leaving 159 of the 225 units uninhabitable. Through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the town was awarded a $6.13 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to close the park and relocate its residents.

After acquiring the park in 2014, the town set a two-year closing date of Feb. 29, 2016. In reality, the park will likely be fully decommissioned and closed this summer, according to Hoch. Though most remaining residents will move into the 40-unit Highland Woods affordable housing project, which is set to open in the coming months, many have already moved elsewhere.

"I think people have looked to see and when another option comes up that's the right fit for them and their family, they move," Hoch said.

The Williamstown-based nonprofit group called Higher Ground, which was founded in response to the disaster, will continue to be available to provide assistance for the remaining residents as they transition to new homes if necessary, according to Susan Puddester, the organization's president.

"We haven't had a lot of request recently for anything other than financial assistance, but when people move, sometimes there are costs they didn't anticipate," Puddester said.

In the beginning, Higher Ground provided assistance to countless residents of the park, many of whom had expected to be able return home after the flooding receded. But that didn't happen.

"I was really happy and impressed with how people rallied and how Higher Ground was formed," Puddester said.

A committee is currently exploring potential future uses for the park, according to Hoch, but there will be limits. Greater detail in that discussion is expected in the summer and fall.

"Right now our priority is wrapping up the closure," Hoch said.

Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.


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