WILLIAMSTOWN -- Most of the damage caused by two severe storms in May has been repaired, said Tim Kaiser, director of the Department of Public Works. The storms, on May 22 and 29, caused flooding that washed away roadsides and culverts and left a trail of destruction throughout town.
According to records kept at Hopkins Forest, 1.8 inches of rain fell in 30 minutes on May 29 - more than during any other high-intensity storm since those records began more than 18 years ago.
Work has resumed on the town's summer construction projects, which include replacing the sidewalks on the south side of Linden Street (part of a five-year program to replace all of the sidewalks in that part of town) and replacing a section of sewer pipe on Syndicate Road.
Much of the trenching that occurred on Petersburg, Berlin, Bee Hill, Stratton and Luce roads has been filled in with gravel, but at several locations, where the water ran underneath the road surface and lifted up the pavement, repairs are still underway.
On July 18, the DPW finished installing the second culvert on Treadwell Hollow Road, where the old culverts, installed in 1911, had been washed downstream when debris became lodged in their openings, creating dams that the water burst through. Following the storm, a portable bridge was installed to restore access to Peace Valley Farm.
All that remains to be done there is to restore the edges of the road and remove the original culverts, which are scattered in pieces downstream.
Tributaries of Hemlock brook, which run along Treadwell Hollow and empty into the pond at Margaret Lindley Park, tripled in intensity during the May 29 storm and carved out new channels through virgin clay. For several weeks, the silt and clay they carried downstream made the pond so cloudy that it failed to meet state clarity standards for swimming. Measurements taken in June indicated that objects disappeared from view just one foot below the surface.
The DPW dredged the holding pond where the stream enters through a pipe (before entering the swimming area) and also added clean water, improving the visibility to around four feet, which was enough for the park to reopen on July 12.
At the base of Bee Hill, just north of Margaret Lindley Park, a berm was constructed after the equivalent of several truckloads of rocks and dirt washed down the hill and onto the road on May 29. The berm redirects a natural waterway at one of the locations where material had washed down from the hill. Most of the work there was done by the Highway Department.
Directly following the May 29 storm, the DPW constructed a temporary berm along a portion of Hemlock Brook that had overflowed and surrounded a house at the base of Petersburg Road. The berm has been mostly removed and the landscape slightly re-contoured to offer protection from future flooding. That work was completed about a week after the storm.
Kaiser said that many of the repairs that were made this summer - especially the smaller roadwork - are ones that have been made before.
"If you have a gravel road whose ditch is washed out, you make sure that the ditch is restored to its original depth," he said. "But if you have another storm like this, it can happen again. There is not much you can do to prevent it."
In other cases, the goal is to provide longer-term solutions, which can be an uphill battle.
On May 22, Broad Brook, which runs along White Oaks Road, jumped its banks, setting a new course along the train tracks that follow the Hoosic River and threatening to destabilize the rail bed. At the time, Pacific Railway was reluctant to take steps to address the root cause of the issue, which was the displacement of rocks farther upstream.
The brook eventually returned to its original course, Kaiser said, "But it wouldn't take much of an increase in flow to cause it to run where it's not supposed to again."
Town officials have held meetings on that subject with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (a subdivision of the USDA) but no action has been taken. Kaiser said the director of NRCS has indicated a desire to initiate a long-term study that would address problems along the entire length of the brook.
In the downtown area, flooding from Christmas Brook, which collects runoff from the surrounding 680-acre watershed, has become a major concern in recent years. The brook enters a culvert beneath Latham Street and travels underground through Williams College property to the Green River. During heavy storms like the one on May 29, the culvert will back up, flooding the basements of homes on Meacham Street.
Although the college's current Weston Field renovation project will not affect the college-owned culvert directly, it will likely decrease the rate of runoff into the brook. The Conservation Commission approved the project's stormwater management system on July 11.
To address its own share of the Christmas Brook issue, the town has hired Clayton Davenport Excavating in Greenfield to reconstruct the entrance to the culvert and install a new pipe beneath Latham Street. That work will likely begin in August.