Congressman Richard Neal visited Great Barrington, Williamstown and North Adams, Massachusetts Friday. The dean of the state delegation was in the Berkshires to make grant announcements.
Berkshire County received $1.1 million from the Environmental Protection Agency to remediate four Brownfield projects in the region – three overseen by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and one by Williamstown.
It totals 25 percent of all of the money Massachusetts – and roughly 2 percent nationwide – received from the EPA two weeks ago to address pollution that threatens public health. Communities fear the agency will lose significant funding and programs under the White House’s budget proposal.
In a statement, the EPA says Administrator Scott Pruitt “is concerned about the slow pace of cleanups of contaminated sites,” and wants to speed up the process.
Congressman Richard Neal, a Democrat from the first House district, spoke in North Adams Friday. The city is receiving $300,000 in grant funding.
“I think it’s a mistake to deny the science of climate change and I think it is a mistake to leave the Paris climate accords,” Neal says. “And I think on, for EPA and its relationship with Berkshire County and North Adams is, this will allow the mayor, the council and the planning department to put in place a plan for reusing some of these old properties to then produce taxable revenue.”
The funds will be used to assess the footprint of the Delftree Building and a former gas station in North Adams. $200,000 will aid cleanup at the former PhoTec property in Williamstown — where a $14.5 million affordable housing project is now under way. Another $300,000 will go toward completing assessment studies in Great Barrington.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright says the EPA grant is not just an environmental grant, but an economic one, too.
“The EPA grant is so beneficial because we are trying to open up our corridors. You know, we have a lot of development going up in the west end. And to open up our corridors, we need to make sure we have clean and developable sites,” Alcombright says.
Neal also announced a roughly $450,000 Department of Homeland Security's Assistance to Firefighters Grant to North Adams. It will be used to purchase 73 firefighter breathing apparatuses and seven intervention packs for the city’s fire department.
“You know the other part of it is – it is constant with the EPA grant today as well – that in New England everything is old,” Neal says.
“Without a doubt,” Alcombright says.
“I mean the houses are wooden for the most part and the factories that are in some cases still existent that have been abandoned have a lot of oil in the floors,” Neal says. “And once that oil is ignited, those buildings go up.”
North Adams Fire Director Stephen Meranti says state and federal grants are the only way the fire station has managed to stay open.
“In the past 15 years, every major purchase the North Adams Fire Department has made has been through some form of grant,” Meranti says.
Those purchases have ranged from thermal imaging gear, to fire trucks, ladders and renovations to the firehouse. One grant allowed the department to hire four more firefighters – and for good reason…
“If this grant was not available to us, we’d be in tough shape,” Meranti says.
The grant serves North Adams, Williamstown, Adams, Cheshire, Florida and Clarksburg – and Stamford, Vermont. North Adams will distribute the materials throughout the communities.
Based in Springfield, Neal has represented the Berkshires since the latest round of redistricting. Neal has face some criticism on editorial pages of late for not making many appearances in the district. He spoke in the Berkshires in January and April, and over the last four and a half years…
“…with this one, here, its 141 events,” Neal says.
Neal plans to host a town hall sometime this fall, but there’s no word yet on where.