State, local officials gather in Becket to announce new grants for culvert work

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BECKET — With changes to our climate on the increase, municipalities are grappling with how to cope with conditions that increasingly can overwhelm existing infrastructure.

To help with that challenge, the state has released nearly $807,000 in grants to mark the start of Climate Week in the commonwealth.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides was in Becket on Monday morning to announce the funding, which is designed to help cities and towns build resiliency to those changes.

Becket has been awarded $65,000 from the state Department of Fish and Game's Division of Ecological Restoration to engineer and design a new culvert, replacing the one located on Center Pond Brook. The upgrade will improve migration of area wildlife and enhance public safety, according to state officials.

"The culvert sizes are often not big enough for the storms we have today," Theoharides told The Eagle later. "One major issue with culverts is a safety issue to prevent rainwater from washing out roads."

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The grant was among 14 to communities across the state for upgrades to existing culverts or installation of new ones that can handle large storms, protect fisheries, wildlife and river habitats, and promote smart investments in climate-ready infrastructure. Alford also received a $15,000 grant to replace a culvert on a tributary of the Green River and double as a culvert replacement training site for municipal staff and officials.

Theoharides was joined in Becket by local and state officials in pointing out the need to upgrade roadside drainage from the Berkshires to Cape Cod.

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"Culverts are a significant part of our infrastructure that go unnoticed until they fail," said state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. "Right now, we have tens of thousands in need of assistance in Massachusetts. Our small towns are often stuck with large, unexpected bills."

Also Monday, the Baker administration also announced the release of a report titled, "Recommendations for Improving the Efficiency of Culvert and Small Bridge Replacement Projects," prepared by the Massachusetts Culverts and Small Bridges Working Group.

The report highlights the safety and environmental challenges presented by over 25,000 road stream crossings across the state and the need for funding and technical assistance for municipalities to address these issues, according to a press release. It also provides recommendations to address those challenges.

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"As climate change brings fiercer storms and increased rainfall to the Commonwealth, the safety issues surrounding undersized culverts become more urgent and apparent," said Gov. Charlie Baker. "Replacing this aging infrastructure is critical to ensure the resilience of our communities and natural resources, and the availability of resources like this report and these grant awards is vital for driving this important work forward."

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said municipalities face safety and environmental challenges in dealing with the 25,000 road-stream crossings across the Massachusetts. He said cities and towns need financial help and technical assistance to address those challenges.

"Today's infrastructure grant announcement makes it clear the state is taking the necessary steps to replace its aging infrastructure, and in doing so, is working to ensure the safety of our residents across our commonwealth," said Pignatelli, House chairman of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com


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