Berkshires Clean Up After Rain, Flooding Damage

Jun 30, 2014

The Mount's French flower garden after five inches of rain sent eight inches of debris streaming into the garden bed.
Credit The Mount: Edith's Wharton Home

Heavy rain last week damaged roads throughout the Capital Region and western Massachusetts.

According to the National Weather Service, four inches of rain fell at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport Wednesday night. That’s more than a month’s worth of rain in several hours. To the south in Lenox, there were reports of seven inches of rain in three hours, according to the town’s Department of Public Words Superintendent Sean VanDeusen.

“I’ve never seen rainfall come that fast with that amount,” VanDeusen said. “It’s a hurricane-level event that occurred in three hours.”

Lenox declared a state of emergency at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The downpours compromised the stability of power and telephone poles and exposed natural gas pipeline on East Street, while exhausted culverts left parts of Crystal Street in Lenox Dale covered with about two feet of gravel, according to VanDeusen.

“Right now the current estimates are between $250,000 to $350,000 for the town’s infrastructure,” he said. “The damage that was done to the residents in Lenox Dale that number will be far higher. I can’t imagine. Some of those people have their basements completely flooded and their lawns are pretty much completely covered in gravel and debris that was washed down the road.”

VanDeusen says the town is still receiving reports of damage. With a new fiscal year starting July 1, VanDeusen says the town has gone through its $1.5 million road maintenance budget for the year. He says there isn’t enough money left over from the fiscal 2014 capital budget to cover the anticipated costs.

“The road that was destroyed going down Walker Street…we have to abide by Massachusetts procurement law,” VanDeusen said. “That will require us to write up a scope of work and go out to advertisement. There’s a minimum of a month or two if we were act right now in order to get that bid awarded. That’s not including trying to get the work started and most of the contractors this year are already pretty well set for work. So it’s going to be difficult to try to get somebody in here to fix it.”

To the west, a lane of Swamp Road was washed out in Richmond while parts of West Road were submerged. Town administrator Matt Kerwood declared a state of emergency.

“I may actually end up extending it [the state of emergency] a little bit further just so that we can get a true accounting of all the costs so that if we are in a position to work with the [legislative] delegation and the other communities that were impacted to try to receive some aid to assist us in the repairs, I’ve got a true calculation,” said Kerwood.

All roads remain open. Kerwood estimates it will cost roughly $70,000 to repair the damage, using figures from a similar storm that impacted the same areas in 2009. Meanwhile, workers at The Mount, the 50-acre estate of the late author and humanitarian Edith Wharton, found what they call heartbreak Thursday morning. Executive Director Susan Wissler says five inches fell at the Lenox property.

“The driveway all the way down to the house was completely washed out due to some culverts that had failed along Plunkett Street,” Wissler explained. “There were huge sinkholes. There were cavernous gullies. We actually had to close the property for the day [Thursday].”

Wissler says the deluge washed away nearly two feet of walkway limestone, revealing quarry rubble laid by the Whartons more than a century ago. She says workers didn’t even dig that deep when they laid out the current pathway in the early 2000s. Eight inches of debris flowed into the French flower gardens, home to some 100 species.

“I would say about half of the flower garden has been destroyed,” she said. “Our goal in terms of what are we going to do about it is we will remove and save whatever plant material we can. Probably those beds, and they are very, very large beds, will need to be completely re-dug and all of the top soil replaced because the problem with the debris that has landed there is that it contains a lot of crushed limestone which is highly alkaline. Alkaline and perennials do not mix. So the soil has basically all been contaminated.”

The Mount spends roughly $120,000 on ground upkeep, as 20 percent of its 40,000 annual visitors come for the gardens, according to Wissler. Initial estimates show about $80,000 in damage. Wissler says the attraction will remain open during fundraising as The Mount enters its busiest season.

State emergency personnel are assessing damage in Cheshire where it’s estimated there is $1 million in damage. VanDeusen is also in contact with the state regarding damage in Lenox.