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Federal Funds Awarded To Springfield To Prepare For Disasters

This apartment house in Springfield MA damaged by the June 1 2011 tornado was later demolished
This apartment house in Springfield MA damaged by the June 1 2011 tornado was later demolished

The city of Springfield, Massachusetts, which experienced five presidentially-declared disasters in a two-year span, including a tornado and two blizzards, is getting federal funds to help with recovery and to prepare for future disasters.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded Springfield $17 million to help fund a variety of projects and programs including restoring affordable housing damaged by the 2011 tornado, create an innovation and job training center for low-income neighborhoods, and build a power plant so the region’s biggest hospital could function for an extended period if a disaster knocks out the electric grid.

Kristine Foye, acting HUD regional administrator, announced the grant award at Springfield City Hall Friday.  Springfield is one of just 13 recipients in a nationwide competition for a total of $ 1 billion.

" The funding is being awarded under the National Disaster Resiliency Competition, which was one of the toughest competitions in HUD history," said Foye.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said the grant award is tribute to the resiliency the city demonstrated in responding to the multiple disasters and the success of the city-wide recovery plan that began to take shape just weeks after the June 1, 2011 tornado.

" We were able to involve over 3,000 residents in probably the biggest master plan citizen involvement in the city's history and now you see it coming to fruition," said Sarno.

The city will use the HUD funds for multiple projects and programs in the areas of clean redundant energy, affordable housing restoration, business and job development and citizens participation in water quality and water conservation activities.

Additional money from public and private sources will be needed to pay for all the projects and programs, according to Springfield Chief Development Officer Kevin Kennedy.

"We have contributions that will be given from our partners.  That was part of the competition. HUD looked at the nature of the projects and also what was going to leveraged by their money," said Kennedy.

Kennedy said Baystate Health and MassMutual, the city’s two biggest private employers, have committed funds for some of the projects.

A complete list of all the projects and a breakdown of the funding for each was not available Friday.

One project proposed in the HUD grant application calls for a combined heat and power plant at Baystate Medical Center that would provide non-grid energy to the hospital. There are also plans to restore an old hydropower generator that would supply electricity to an elementary school that could then be used as an emergency shelter.

Congressman Richard Neal, who helped secure tens of millions of dollars in disaster recovery money for Springfield, said the latest funding award is “exciting news," adding, " It is another reminder that there is opportunity in crisis."

Funds for the HUD grant awards came from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, which was passed by Congress in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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