Long-awaited drainage project in southeast Pittsfield neighborhood edging toward start


PITTSFIELD — Work on the long-awaited, $1 million Mountain Drive stormwater drainage project could begin as early as this week, but the start date still is dependent on some final notification details.

Work has been delayed while the city continues to seek state and federal environmental sign-offs on the extensive project, which involves installing 1,100 feet of wider storm drain to channel water away from the hillside area. The plan calls for installing a 42-inch wide precast concrete stormwater main to replace a smaller culvert system under the hilltop area of Mountain Drive, from near the Yvonne Drive intersection to just south of Gaston Drive.

Bruce Collingwood, Pittsfield's commissioner of public utilities, said Friday that the city has clearance for the contractor to begin work in sections of the project outside wetlands buffer zones. He said that involves the central portion of the storm drain, work that could take six to seven weeks.

Once final environmental permits are in hand, he said, work will commence in the buffer zone areas and the storm drain sections will be connected. However, he said the city still needs to nail down other details, including sign-offs by two residents on required easements for work on their property.

"No one has said they aren't going to do it," he said, but communications with the residents has been slow, with responses to calls or emails taking longer than he would like.

The city awarded a $998,495 contract for the work in November to D.R. Billings of Lanesborough, with the project expected to begin in the spring because of the winter weather and to allow completion of environmental permitting.

City Conservation Agent Robert Van Der Kar said Thursday that the city is cleared to begin work in areas outside the wetlands buffer zone sites.

The Conservation Commission has repeatedly carried the project on its agenda in recent months only to continue to postpone a vote to approve conditions for work in buffer zone areas. Van Der Kar said the delay is primarily related to some system design changes that required follow-up reviews by both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The overall design of the system hasn't changed, Van Der Kar said, adding that any water quality permitting process "takes time," in part because of the required federal and state reviews.

Collingwood said the contractor had requested a change in the shape of the precast culvert in one section of the system that would facilitate the project but not reduce the size of the drain. The change, he said, involves using a rectangular-shaped pipe in some sections and a round culvert elsewhere.

The new system will replace one that is not large enough to handle the amount of storm or spring melt water that flows through it. Residents report standing water, flooded and damaged lawns, mud deposits, including inside buildings, and manhole covers in the street that "explode" upward from water pressure during major storms.

"I certainly want to get this started," said Ward 4 City Councilor Christopher Connell. "I would like to see it completed this year. It has taken much too long."

Connell said he understands that some of the delay is out of the city's hands, but he and residents of the area are frustrated as the project planning began two years ago.

"I am also holding my breath every time we have heavy rain," he said, adding that some residents have sustained property damage on more than one occasion.

Collingwood said Friday all the outstanding issues could be resolved quickly, but it might take up to two weeks to resolve the final details. He said the city will notify residents about the pending work, likely with letters and possibly through the city's Code Red telephone notification system.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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