The Spruces draws legal attention, campus efforts

Nearly a month after Tropical Storm Irene hit the region, some residents of The Spruces mobile home park have only recently regained their power while others still are not allowed to live in their homes. According to the iBerkshires Williamstown website, 29 homes had their electricity and gas service restored and were approved for occupancy within the last week. As of last Friday, the website categorized 159 units as “restricted use,” 36 as “unsafe” and one as “off-limits.”

According to Muslim Chaplain Bilal Ansari, local officials came to The Spruces property on Saturday to make an assessment. Peter Fohlin, the town manager, wrote a letter to inform the Morgan Management company that it is committing code violations by refusing to move trash – consisting largely of furniture destroyed by the storm. However, Ansari said that Morgan Management is arguing that the furniture is not actually trash, and so there is no obligation to remove it. The letter to Morgan Management ordered that the company remove the disputed furniture by Friday.

In terms of the relief response to The Spruces damage, Lehman Council, pastors from local churches, a resident of The Spruces, the Alumni Relations office and Ansari have now created a nonprofit organization called Higher Ground, Inc. to address these issues.

College students, faculty and staff moved to help the members of their community and plan fundraisers, including a benefit dinner on Sept. 24 to support those whose homes were damaged by the storm. Jason Wandri, a chef at Driscoll dining hall, helped organize the dinner. About 75 people came.

According to Steve Maier ’12, who helped organize many relief events for The Spruces, “the dinner raised about $600, which is wonderful but unfortunately well short of our goal.”

In addition to the dinner, CC Co-President Nick Fogel ’12, Maier and other College students were able to host a benefit concert last Thursday. Mark Lyons ’13, Cody Skinner ’13 and other College students performed in the concert, which cost $3 per ticket. The concert raised nearly $700.

“It was a great atmosphere with unbelievable performances,” Fogel said.

College students also sponsored two workdays at The Spruces, the most recent of which took place last Saturday.

Ansari said that around 20 College students helped clean up debris and garbage deposited by Tropical Storm Irene. Students from the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Berkshire Community College were also present. After the work was completed, students and residents enjoyed a barbeque together.

This coming Saturday, students are organizing the third workday to immediately follow the Friday deadline for the trash removal. “If [the company] does not do anything, College students and others who were involved with the group will be creating a wall of trash, which they are calling a wall of shame,” Ansari said. “This will be the last event because residents are beginning to take it to another level. They are planning to put money together to hire a dump truck.”

Response efforts to The Spruces are making an impact. “I’ve been pleased with the turnouts,” Fogel said. “Williams students are notoriously busy, and it’s tough to find time at the beginning of the semester, but we’ve had big turnouts.”

Ansari framed the relief efforts positively as well. “As neighbors, we’re doing the best we can,” Ansari said.


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