A culvert

A recently replaced culvert.

At an event in Becket on Sept. 14, the Baker-Polito administration announced $806,880 in grants to municipalities through the Division of Ecological Restoration’s Culvert Replacement Municipal Assistance Grant Program.

According to the administration, the grants support projects that improve preparedness for large storms, protect fisheries, wildlife and river habitats, and invest in climate-ready infrastructure.

Culvert replacement grants, ranging from $25,000 to $150,000, were awarded to 12 towns. Two additional towns received funding through the Culvert Replacement Training Initiative.

At the same event, the administration released a report, “Recommendations for Improving Efficiency of Culvert and Small Bridge Replacement Projects,” prepared by the Massachusetts Culverts and Small Bridge Working Group.

The working group’s mandate was to develop recommendations to replace culverts and small bridges more quickly and cost-effectively with climate-resilient structures that can withstand storms, improve public safety, and protect and restore natural resources.

“Culverts are a significant part of our infrastructure that go unnoticed until they fail,” said Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield, who authored the amendment to the fiscal 2019 state budget that called for the creation of the working group. “Right now, we have tens of thousands in need of assistance in Massachusetts. Our small towns are often stuck with large, unexpected bills.”

The report highlights the safety and environmental challenges presented by more than 25,000 culverts and small bridges (spans between 10 and 20 feet) at road stream crossings across the state, and the need for funding and technical assistance for municipalities and partners to address the safety issues.

“Massachusetts climate change predictions include increases in both the frequency of severe weather and the amount of precipitation,” the report states. “Massachusetts has already begun to experience these changes, putting many culverts and small bridges at risk. … As climate change impacts increase, a growing number of culverts and small bridges will be at risk due to increased storm flow.”

Key recommendations include “expanding and improving existing state technical assistance and training programs, developing an interagency program to help municipalities navigate the process of culvert and bridge replacement, and providing additional grant funds to municipalities for culvert and bridge replacement projects.” The report also recommends revisions to engineering standards that would streamline permitting and review processes.

The MMA served on the working group and assisted with the development of the report, with support from municipal officials.

Jim Lovejoy, a member of the Mount Washington Select Board and chair of the MMA Policy Committee on Public Works, Transportation and Utilities, attended the event in Becket, along with Chris Bouchard, president of the Massachusetts Highway Association and a former highway superintendent in Becket.

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