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Potts Ditch project gaining ground

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City officials are hoping to reroute Potts Ditch along Grant, East, North and Spring streets. The current ditch would be abandoned.
City officials are hoping to reroute Potts Ditch along Grant, East, North and Spring streets. The current ditch would be abandoned.

GREENFIELD — The pricey fix to flooding in downtown Greenfield took a significant step forward Tuesday.

Potts Ditch, which runs through historic downtown, has been flooding for decades during heavy rainfall. Last summer, city officials looked at an initial engineering study that outlines ways to fix the problem.

Tuesday, the Greenfield Board of Works gave the city’s engineering department the nod to go one step further. The city will ask for qualifications from engineering firms that will give more detailed plans for the multi-million dollar renovations.

It’s the first step forward in six months, and engineer Karla Vincent said while the work will take several years to complete, she is pleased the project is progressing.

City officials hope to reroute the ditch by reconstructing a new box tunnel. The new ditch would go along Grant, East, North and Spring streets, and the current ditch would be abandoned.

Once the city chooses an engineering firm, the company will give more detailed plans for relocating utility lines, building a new tunnel and reconstructing roads.

The estimated cost of the project is just shy of $10 million and Mayor Dick Pasco said the city would have to take out a bond for the project.

“I’m still hoping the construction costs will be less, with the (state of the) economy,” he said. “Besides the fact that it needs to be done, it should have been done years ago, interest rates are down with bonds and construction companies are hungry for the work.”

Pasco said the city will have to borrow money for construction, and he is working with the city’s controller to determine funding options. The bond could be paid back out of storm sewer funds, a utility account that Greenfield Utility customers pay into for infrastructure improvement projects.

The request for engineering firms means companies can submit their qualifications to the city to do the detailed drawings of the reroute. Vincent said she expects proposals to come in next month, followed by an interview process.

Once the company is chosen – which may be sometime in April – it will take about a year to complete detailed drawings of the reroute. Vincent said it will be at least 2014 before ground is broken on the project, and there will have to be several utility lines relocated as well.

“(It will be ) several years by the time it’s all said and done,” she said.

Part of Potts Ditch is an underground tunnel built about a century ago. The closed portion starts at Fourth Street and heads southeast under buildings and homes to south Spring Street. The tunnel floods in various places because the openings are not wide enough; debris in the ditch has sometimes made the flooding worse by becoming stuck in the tunnel’s twists and turns.

The most recent major flooding happened in 2008 when storm water rushed over the banks of the ditch and flooded into homes and basements. The city spent roughly $60,000 to rehabilitate part of the ditch, but officials have known for years that those kinds of patches were just short-term solutions.

Vincent said there have also been minor floods, one as recently as last week at Fourth Street.

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