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CHICOPEE — On Feb. 6, state and local officials took a tour around phase one of the Abbey Brook restoration project to see the progress of phase one of the project.

Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Tom O’Shea, Undersecretary for the Environment Stephanie Cooper and Chicopee Planning Department member Michelle Santerre were a part of the tour. State Sen. Adam Gomez (D-Springfield), state Rep. Shirley Arriaga (D-Chicopee), Mayor John Vieau, Chicopee Parks Commissioner Maureen Buxton and Chicopee Parks Director Ben Strepk also joined the tour.

Abbey Brook is a small waterway that rises in Springfield and flows through Szot Park before emptying into the Chicopee River.

Abbey Brook’s flow through Szot Park is interrupted by two earthen dams, the Upper and Lower Bemis Pond dams and have outlived their intended use and have begun to degrade and impact water quality.

Downstream from these dams, Abbey Brook flows through a culvert underneath Front Street and then dips underground beneath the municipal light company before flowing into the Chicopee River.

In 2018, the project was designated as a DER Provisional Priority Project with the intention of investigating the possibility of removing both dams and enhancing the Abbey Brook corridor.

Chicopee applied to the Massachusetts Dam and Seawall Grant program to fund the design, engineering, permitting and removal of the lower Bemis Pond Dam.

The project was awarded $5 million through American Rescue Plan Act and approximately $2.3 million from the Division of Ecological Restoration priority projects, of which $2 million came from ARPA funds.

The project will take place in three phases.

The first phase of this project is currently under construction, which includes the removal of one of the town-owned dams.

Vieau said, “This is a project that we are really proud of. Szot Park is the crown jewel, it’s our Boston Common and we’re excited about what is happening here with recreating the recreation and also we are doing a master plan, comprehensive plan about renovating and updating this park and this is really a key component.”

Gomez discussed how it is great to see the state, federal and local governments come together to help fund this important project for Chicopee.

He said, “When it comes to our dams and our infrastructure in the Hampden district, we have a lot of these projects that need to happen. I am happy that this project is happening. During my time on the municipal side, we had a lot of dams that had to get done on the Springfield side and it is about time Chicopee starts getting their fair share of things.”

Gomez also talked about how excited he is to see the project completed because he created a lot of memories during his childhood at Szot Park.

“I can’t wait to see the finished project. Growing up in this park as well, I used to hang out at the tanks with my mom and dad, playing basketball. This was a place where we came and sat by the lake, and we spent time, we ate and this is where a lot of memories was made. To make sure one the infrastructure of the dam gets done is a big plus for the city of Chicopee,” Gomez said.

Phase two of the project will include replacing the Front Street culvert and “daylighting” the underground section of the brook.

“This is really critical infrastructure that runs down Front Street that we really need to make sure we are protecting as a city as this dam is failing,” Vieau added.

Phase two is currently in the design phase.

The final phase involves the removal of the Upper Bemis Pond dam and further restoration of the Abbey Brook.

Once all three phases are complete, the project will reconnect 1.5 miles of Abbey Brook with the downstream Chicopee River, eliminating the risk to public safety posed by the aging dams, reducing flood risk, improving water quality and enhancing recreational opportunities for the community.

The plan is to add boardwalks, an outdoor classroom, connect the trails and plant approximately 200 trees, according to Santerre.

She added, “We are addressing the safety and giving the community something, they have been telling us they want.”

Tepper said she was excited to see that there was funding in the budget for this project.

Tepper said, “We have an additional $5.6 million for dams and culverts which is significantly more than we have had in the past. As you know from this summer in particular, we got a real problem with dams and culverts, and we’ve had a lot of flooding, and a lot of towns are desperate for help in this area.”

This project can potentially help highlight the governor’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal for increased funding for the Culvert and Small Bridges Technical Assistance Program, according to Undersecretary for the Environment Stephanie Cooper.

She added, “The funding that is proposed in the governor’s budget, what we want to create is a technical assistance program to dam owners, so everyone with this project has shown great leadership and they have been at this a long time, but we want to bring more folks along to so they have a person and expert to call for issues, inspections or questions about a certain dam.”

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