Cooperation kept costs low following Conway tornado 

  • The salt shed located at the Conway Grammar School lost its metal roof, peeled off by a tornado, Feb. 27, 2017. Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

  • The barn housing J&J Maggs Antiques was leveled by tornado in Conway on Feb. 27, 2017, but spared their adjacent house. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Friday, February 23, 2018

CONWAY — Uprooted trees, broken glass, ruined rooftops and crushed walls were some of the effects of the first recorded February tornado in Massachusetts.

It’s amazing the town’s direct costs were only around $15,000 plus some lesser forest-cleanup and labor costs.

“It was an incredibly, unexpectedly small number,” said Conway Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson.

Of course, the town will pay higher insurance rates because insurance companies footed much of the bill, Hutcheson said, but he is still surprised the town did not need to pay the $25,000 direct cost estimate.

“The town was very lucky compared to the residents who were hit much harder,” Hutcheson said.

At least 26 homes were damaged, much of a maple sugaring operation was destroyed, a historical church may be beyond saving and a barn was flattened. The residents and churchgoers affected by those losses are still cleaning up in many cases.

The town’s notable losses were a salt shed roof and trees.

The salt shed roof was fully repaired by the end of last summer, with insurance paying entirely for the project. The town finished doing tree removal this winter.

“We believe the town completed its cleanup, but that was just this winter,” Hutcheson said.

A large tree removal project presents obstacles one might not expect, Hutcheson said. Costs were not the problem, and, in many areas, trees don’t need removing and nature may be left to take its course.

According to Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, at least 24 rare or endangered species have been reported in the town. The town had to make sure they would not hurt any of these species when cleaning up behind the Conway Grammar School, Hutcheson said.

“We were able to complete that job and complete it well,” Hutcheson said.

Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said costs related to the tornado were kept down by the swift response of emergency services and line and tree crews on the night of the disaster.

By swiftly removing hazardous trees and wreckage and checking on residents, emergency personnel helped ensure there were no deaths or serious injuries related to the tornado, O’Rourke said.

O’Rourke said the town’s response starting out “in the dark, not only because this event happened at night and because electrical service was out throughout most of the town, but also because many of our key personnel were either on vacation, far out of town or engaged out of town locally at other events.”

Eversource crews from as far away as Cape Cod came to help restore electricity.

O’Rourke also cited the good work of Fire Chief Bob Baker; Patricia Vinchesi, a resident with municipal management experience; and Assistant Emergency Management Director George Murphy during the “initial critical 48 hours.”

Much of the extended cleanup was done by W.D. Cowls Inc., a North Amherst timberland company and the largest private landowner in the state.

According to Shane Bajnoci, land manager at W.D. Cowls, 28 acres of company land was damaged. Luckily, Bajnoci said, the ground was not frozen at the time of the tornado, and the uprooted trees were easy to remove and had salvageable timber.

Bajnoci said Cowls too finished its cleanup this winter. The town, he said, was helpful and cooperated on land agreements allowing the town and company to travel through each other’s respective property.

“We were all early in the process, and right from the get-go everyone was agreeable,” Bajnoci said. “Everyone was great to work with, and it spared everyone a lot of trouble. We’re pretty happy with how the whole process went.”