WILLIAMSTOWN -- For many people at The Spruces Mobile Home Park, last Wednesday's heavy rainfall and the damage it caused around town brought back disturbing memories of Tropical Storm Irene, which left most of the park's residents without homes in August 2011.
This time, as with several previous instances of "nuisance flooding" at the park, the water came not from the Hoosic River, which runs along the park's northern edge, but from the hills to the south.
Marylynn Kirby, manager of The Spruces, was busy last Thursday morning clearing drains and picking up debris from the park's roadsides and lawns.
"It wasn't the pipe, it wasn't the river, it wasn't the drains," she said, referring to the park's outdated drainage system. She described a wall of water that swept across Route 2 and into the park, dislodging chunks of pavement and leaving about an inch of water in the Recreation Hall.
None of the homes at The Spruces were damaged, but the storm's aftermath was evident throughout Williamstown on Thursday and Friday. Many roadsides had been washed out, large culverts dislodged and carried downstream, and vegetation had been uprooted and washed away.
"There is damage everywhere," Tim Kaiser, director of the Department of Public Works, said Friday. "A lot of it is small, but it's everywhere." Kaiser has been leading the town's efforts to remove sediment, regrade roads and rebuild eroded riverbanks.
Cemetery and Parks Superintendant Chris Lemoine believes the repairs will take months to complete.
The storm was apparently strongest in South Williamstown, where a tributary of Hemlock Brook near Oblong Road tripled in intensity and washed away access roads to Peace Valley Farm. It left a 20-foot gulf in one road and seven large-diameter metal culverts scattered in pieces hundreds of feet downstream.
Much of the town's drainage infrastructure was originally built to sustain only a 100-year flood, Kaiser said - a model that is no longer practical.
On May 21 and 22, Broad Brook, which begins in Vermont and runs along White Oaks Road, became obstructed by rocks during a storm and jumped its banks, setting a new course along the train tracks that follow the Hoosic River.
The brook has returned to its normal course, Kaiser said, but the new pathway remains, leaving the rail bed in danger of erosion. Town Manager Peter Fohlin was in the process of describing that situation to the Board of Selectmen at Town Hall just as the May 29 storm began.
He said that while Pan Am Railways was unwilling to address the problem with Broad Brook itself, it had expressed an interest in preserving the rail bed. He was doubtful the company would take immediate action.
"So I don't know where we stand on this," he said. "It seems as though people have kind of lost interest since the rain stopped. But we're continuing to push for people who ought to be interested to help us take corrective action."
Also at the May 29 meeting, Fohlin provided an update on the efforts to refortify a section of riverbank near The Spruces, where erosion has exposed a concrete sewer main. The 48-inch pipe, which carries sewage and effluent from North Adams to the water treatment plant in Williamstown, consists of interlocking sections that require a solid foundation in order to stay together.
Brad Furlon, director of Hoosic Water Quality District, which oversees the wastewater treatment plant and the sewer main, said the river's course has changed dramatically since 1975 when the pipe was constructed.
"When that pipe was put in, the riverbank was 40 to 50 feet away from the pipe," he said. What accounted for the river's shifting course was "Years of erosion and 100-year and 500-year storms that they never anticipated coming through this area." He added that "Since Irene this is the third section of riverbank that I've had to repair." But that it should also be the last, at least for a while.
D.R. Billings, Inc. of Lanesboro is the contractor for the project. Workers from the company had hoped to begin adding riprap (coarse gravel) to the water underneath the pipe on Thursday, but Wednesday's storm prevented them from doing so.
In the downtown area, flooding from Christmas Brook has been relatively common in recent years. The brook begins at Stone Hill and collects runoff from the Clark Art Institute, Taconic Golf Course, Weston Field and teh area around Hoxsey Street. After running along the edge of Weston Field (the Williams College playing fields), it enters a culvert at Latham Street and travels underground to the Green River. During heavy rains the culvert overflows, as it did on May 29.
"This is the fourth time this has happened since 2005," said Paul Lovegreen, owner of Tunnel City Coffee on Spring Street, which was flooded in the storm but did not sustain serious damage. The basements of several residences farther south on Meacham Street (including Lovegreen's) were flooded with four feet of water.
The problem, Lovegreen explained, is partly that the town-owned culvert is too small for handling runoff from heavy rains, and partly that a drainage system that was installed in Weston Field in the 1990s was not designed to slow the water down before discharging it into Christmas Brook.
The college's Weston Field restoration project, which will likely begin in the fall, may end up slowing the rate at which water from the field drains into the brook, Lovegreen said, but that alone will not solve the problem.
Town Planner Andrew Groff wrote in an email that the Conservation Commission's review of the Weston Field drainage system has been ongoing. He added that "Due to the proposal's complexity the commission will be having an independent consultant review the proposal to ensure that it does not have negative downstream impacts."
Representatives from the college were not immediately available for comment.
Water rushed down Latham Street for more than two hours on May 29 - around and into the houses on Meacham Street, through the southern part of the site of the old Town Garage, across Water Street and finally into the Green River. Lovegreen said the water was more than a foot deep in places and left four cars stranded.
Between 1999 - when Lovegreen moved onto Meacham Street - and 2005, flooding from the brook had not been not an issue, Lovegreen said, but the battle has become increasingly frustrating. Now Lovegreen and his wife, Barbara Gill, are exploring options to put up barriers on their property to redirect the water.
"There is a lot more that the town could do and that the school could do in unison to solve this problem," Lovegreen said.
The potential for continued flooding from Christmas Brook is of particular concern in regard to the site of the old Town Garage on Water Street. The Affordable Housing Committee recently began the process of issuing Requests for Proposals for the 1.3-acre site, where remediation was completed earlier this year.
The town's recently accepted $6.13 million FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant will allow a three-year window in which for the town to relocate the 66 remaining Spruces households and decommission the park, which lies in a 500-year floodplain.