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Life in Merrick returning to normal

Date: 8/3/2011

Aug. 3, 2011

By Debbie Gardner

Assistant Editor

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Two months after an EF-4 tornado ravaged the Merrick section of West Springfield, Community Development Director Joseph Laplante told Reminder Publications life in that area of town is slowly beginning to return to normal.

“There’s an awful lot of activity,” Laplante said. “You hear the sounds of hammers and staple guns all over the place as people are repairing their roofs, siding and windows.”

He said there’s also a lot of landscaping happening, as residents continue to clear debris from their yards and properties. The town’s Department of Public Works (DPW), he added, is still assisting with the clearing of construction and demolition debris in the Merrick area, and street sweeping is now taking place in the neighborhood.

In the long term, however, Laplante said there are still between 10 and 12 homes in the neighborhood so badly damaged on June 1 they must be demolished.

“We will be working with [these homeowners] to see what we can do to help them rebuild their houses,” Laplante said.

He said the town is expecting to receive $1 million in supplemental state funding in the form of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) in the next few weeks. A portion of that CDBG money has already been earmarked for home repairs and, according to Laplante, some of the homeowners selected to receive home repair funds through a pre-June 1 lottery are in the Merrick section of town.

The town is also stepping in to help put the neighborhood back in order, Laplante said. West Springfield has earmarked $20,000 in excess sidewalk repair funds and Laplante said the money is being dedicated to purchasing and planting new trees on the town-owned tree belt land in the Merrick neighborhood.

“It’s quite startling to see,” Laplante said of the now-treeless neighborhood. “Every time I talk to the neighbors, they mention how bare the streets look.”

He added that the lack of trees — and shade — made quite a difference in the air temperatures in the Merrick section during the recent heat wave.

“We’re currently working with neighbors and the DPW to choose the types of trees best suited to the neighborhood and will get started planting [them] in the fall” Laplante said.

Overall, Laplante said the neighborhood is probably six months away from completing most of the minor repair work to get life back to normal. Rebuilding the homes that have been destroyed, he said, would probably take one to two years “by the time insurance companies settle and [residents] get the money to rebuild.”

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