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Rep. Neal earmarks $740K for delayed sewer, erosion work

Date: 10/26/2022

AGAWAM — The town will get $740,000 in federal funds to help reduce damage to the Westfield River, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal announced on Oct. 20.

Neal gathered with Agawam elected officials at Town Hall to announce that the federal government’s fiscal year 2022 budget includes extra aid to Agawam to restore the river embankment along Main Street, to prevent erosion, and to help renovate a sewer line serving Reed Street, to redirect the flow of sewage from discharging into the river to instead reach the treatment plant.

Mayor William Sapelli said he welcomed the help in bringing a pair of long-delayed projects to completion. He thanked Neal for prioritizing Agawam in the federal budget — this is was one of 10 projects for which Neal secured budget earmarks this year — and the Agawam City Council for supporting local funding to complete the work.

“You don’t do this alone as a mayor,” he said.

The town had budgeted $2.5 million for the Reed Street sewer project, but “we’re refining those cost estimates,” said town Procurement Officer Jennifer Bonfiglio. She noted the council has delayed taking a final vote on the project because of uncertainty that the budget would be enough.

The aging sewer infrastructure in the Reed Street neighborhood can dump sewage into the Westfield River, a tributary of the Connecticut River. The federal government mandates that towns separate their sewer and stormwater systems, so that sewage is sent to treatment plants and only runoff from rain and snow is ever deposited, untreated, in rivers and other natural waterways.

Neal said this funding continues the effort to improve the health of America’s rivers that began half a century ago when President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act.

“It also hearkens back to a less contentious time in American history, when a Republican president signed Democratic legislation,” Neal said.

Because of the Clean Water Act and other environmental laws passed in that era, “the air we breathe is cleaner, the water we drink is cleaner,” Neal said.

Neal, who grew up in Springfield and was mayor of that city before being elected to Congress in 1988, said he can remember when people considered the polluted water of the Connecticut River unsafe for swimming, and finding ways to make it cleaner and encourage recreation on the river “has been a pet project of mine for some time.”

The federal aid is an example of “Congressionally Directed Spending,” also known as earmarks, specific projects requested by individual representatives to be included in the federal budget. Neal said this practice allows members of Congress to apply their knowledge of needs in their local communities, and to assert that they serve “with” the president as an equal branch of government, not “for” the president.

In addition to representing Agawam and several other communities in the Berkshires, Greater Springfield and south-central Massachusetts, Neal plays a powerful role in the budgeting process, as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Neal, a Democrat, is a candidate for re-election in the Nov. 8 state election. His opponent is West Springfield resident Dean Martilli, a Republican.