USDA to Help Restore Western Mass. Waterways Damaged by Tropical Storm Irene

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service has appropriated nearly $2.8 million to repair Western Massachusetts waterways damaged by Tropical Storm Irene. But municipalities will have to prove that changes to rivers and streams are a threat to public safety.

The USDA funds are being provided through the Emergency Watershed Protection program, which offers financial and technical assistance to reduce excessive erosion and flooding after a natural disaster.

"If the site presents a risk to human life or limb that's one of the main criteria for acceptance into the program."

Christine Clarke is the state conservationist with the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. She says her agency will provide funds for work on town roads, sewer lines, and buildings in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire counties.

"A water supply line being jeopardized in turn jeopardizes the population. Everybody's got to have healthy, clean water and access to it. Another example is there's several building structures that had the material and earth underneath them eroded away to the point where they were going to be destroyed. And a third kind of example is roads. If a road is undermined but still travelable, we can support fixing it."

All projects must be sponsored by a city, county, tribe or conservation district, which has to fund 25 percent of the project cost and the USDA covers 75 percent. Work is already underway on sites in Buckland, Cummington and Adams.