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Tornado recovery is mostly talk, little action

Date: 4/3/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

For my wife and I the end is in sight. After the better part of two years since the June 1, 2011 tornado, we know that our home is slated for its final repairs.

We have fought with our insurance company and explained over and over to two mortgage companies the nature of our situation – but despite it all we were fortunate compared to others.

We were lucky that our damage was not so severe to keep us from living in our house, unlike many others in the neighborhoods affected by the storm.

What has concerned me, though, are the number of people whose situations haven't been resolved and the lack of progress toward redevelopment in the affected neighborhoods.

In light of the recent announcement the city has recieved $21 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the questions concerning redevelopment are even more vital.

There are no specifics about how that money would be used and I wonder if it will go toward the construction of a new Elias Brookings Museum Magnet School, the demolition of the old school and the restoration of Ruth Elizabeth Park.

Restoration of these neighborhoods go beyond these three projects, though.

My wife and I were awakened recently by the sound of a demolition crew brining down a wrecked house on the next street over. Demolitions, cleanup of debris and some new sidewalks in my neighborhood define the redevelopment efforts so far. Drive down Central Street or Main Street in the South End and there are now large vacant areas. Some of those properties are privately owned and some are owned by the city, but the question I have is the same for both: what the hell is happening?

Yes, there have been plans, neighborhood discussions, wish lists, conceptual drawings and a small army of consultants. They've produced some pretty handsome documents, but where is the brick and mortar?

Let's face it: tornado recovery simply isn't very sexy anymore. The topic doesn't have much top of mind awareness for the general public. Casinos, yes, recovery, no.

That is of course how American society generally operates. We respond to a call for action, but often we seem to lack follow-through. Right now the glittering goal of landing a casino is far more interesting than what is going on in working poor and working class neighborhoods rearranged by a tornado almost two years ago.

Here is what I would like to ask: any official in Springfield associated with the redevelopment effort give me a call at 525-3247 ext. 103 and explain to me how the plans that were designed are being implemented. I'd also like to know what the city is intending to do with the land it controls in these neighborhoods.

What is being done? Come on, someone should know.

Cars, cars, cars

My wife and I had to make a quick trip to Virginia last week, which meant a ride up and down the busiest highway corridor on the east coast in just a few days. For several reasons, we couldn't take Amtrak – our preferred choice – and drove instead.

Sweet mother of all that is holy, I really hate that trip. For us, it's Interstate 91 to Interstate 84 to the Garden State Parkway to the New Jersey Turnpike to a point where we jump off the highway in Delaware and travel the rest of the way to Richmond, Va. on U.S. Route 301.

By the way, men love to recite the route they've traveled. It makes us seem like we sharing some pioneering knowledge.

It might take us a little longer, but the trip is a lot more tolerable as there are Wawas along the way. If you haven't experienced a Wawa, as you travel, you don't know what you're missing: good food, clean rest rooms and cheap gas.

Signalling horrors to come, the New Jersey Turnpike is adding lanes and exits close to New York City, acknowledging the current road can barely handle the traffic and that in the future there will be some sort of monster highway to accommodate the usage.

By then I hope "Star Trek" style transporters will have been invented.

Just driving through Hartford, Conn., at 7:30 a.m. was a challenge to my anger management.

My conclusions out of this experience were two-fold: we have to get a car with better gas mileage and we need a far better mass transit system in this country.

Oh, and if I win the lottery, I'm getting a Wawa franchise. I'll put one next to the casino! That's my retirement plan.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.