Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mayoral Debate Oct 13 7pm NHS

This Just in from David Pakman and our friends at VFR and NCTV: Be There or Be Square!

The 2009 Northampton Mayoral Debate, hosted by Valley Free Radio and Northampton Community Television, will be held at the Northampton High School Auditorium on Tuesday, October 13, 2009, at 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30.
Candidates and a three-member panel will be moderated by the David Pakman, producer of the nationally-syndicated Midweek Politics.

Audience members will have the opportunity to pose questions to the candidates or submit them in advance to mayoraldebatequestions@valleyfreeradio.org.

The Debate is sponsored by the League of Women Voters and by Herrell's Ice Cream. Herrell's will be giving away free ice cream passes at the debate.

The event will be taped for later broadcast on NCTV, Valley Free Radio, and WHMP/WRSI The River. Live Twitter updates of the event will be provided by Jason Turcotte of Turcotte Data and Design at http://twitter.com/jasonturcotte

The winner of the November 3, 2009 election will sit at the helm of a city with an $87 million budget and a population of nearly 30,000.

To inquire about sponsorship or getting involved, please contact mayoraldebate@valleyfreeradio.org or visit www.valleyfreeradio.org/2009mayoraldebate.

Friday, September 4, 2009

US EPA Visits Russell Re Biomass Plant

The federal Environmental Protection Agency visited Russell on August 13 to hold a hearing on a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System [NPDES] permit issued to Russell Biomass. The plant is seeking permission to discharge heated and contaminated effluent into the Westfield River. (The draft permit can be found here.)

Dozens of concerned citizens and environmental professionals spoke, most opposing the permit. The pair from the EPA, as the evening wore on, were clearly wilting.

US EPA visits Russell MA re Biomass Plant

Thursday, August 27, 2009

David Bourbeau

Anja Waechter-Bourbeau, the late David Bourbeau, my aunt Helena, and David's wife Marie Waechter at Hanover, New Hampshire this spring. David Bourbeau, fine book artist and friend, will be sadly missed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bistro 186 Closes

We ran into Ed Vadas and Sue Burkhart on Friday night. For months, they have played a weekly gig--their act is called Ameri-MF-Cana--at the Bistro 186. Why were they busking out on the sidewalk, instead of setting up inside? "The owner always comes by early and lets us in," they explained. "He's twenty minutes late. That's not like him."

Turns out the Bistro is no more. Rumor on the street? Back rent owed. Too bad...the Bistro 186 was starting to develop as a great place to catch local musicians playing early evening gigs.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

City Councilor Raymond LaBarge

Councilor Marianne Labarge called this morning with sad news: her friend and colleague Councilor Ray LaBarge passed away today before dawn. He will be missed.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Download Landfill Options Study Here

Not in the mood to spend a perfectly good hour trying to find public documents on the City of Northampton website?

Download the Solid Waste Alternatives Study Here.

P.S. The Northampton DPW has a new blog. Check it out! http://ntondpw.blogspot.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

landfill ballot deliberations

Here's the NCTV coverage of the city council's 07-09-09 discussion of the initiative(s) to place the question of the landfill expansion on the ballot. Two sections. Final vote--to send the issue to the ordinance committee, 7 in favor, 2 opposed--Bardsley and M. LaBarge.

Lots of brou-ha-ha about whether this is a citizens' initiative or a councilors' initiative and what that might mean from a legal perspective. Lots of discussion about the wording of the initiative.

According to Councilor Dostal, the BPW/Stantec "options study" is due out within the next week. This long-delayed study is supposed to look at what the city's options will be if the landfill is not expanded.

Special city council meeting, July 30, 7 p.m., on the issue.

Video courtesy of Northampton Community Television.

Monday, July 13, 2009

City Hall Secrets

The Gazette's Dan Crowley is off his leash, and has sunk his teeth into a great story. Turns out Northampton's city solicitor has instructed the clerk of the council to destroy public records--specifically, city council minutes taken during executive sessions.

Critics of Northampton Mayor Mary Clare Higgins have long charged---both anonymously, on the MassLive Northampton Forum,
and openly, on the listserv maintained by the Paradise City Forum, that the mayor is in the habit of making decisions "behind closed doors."

The burden of proof in these allegations has, until now, lain with the accusers. It now, I believe, lies with the Mayor of Northampton. Why destroy public records? And what's with City Solicitor Janet Sheppard--who, or what. is she protecting?

Here's a snip from Crowley's most recent article on the records purge, which appeared on July 14: (subscription required at gazettenet)

NORTHAMPTON - Recent closed-session meeting notes taken by a clerk were destroyed and deleted from computer files before they reached the City Council in the form of minutes for approval, the Gazette has learned.

That action is an apparent violation of the state's Public Records Law, according to the office of the secretary of state. Mayor Clare Higgins says she may seek an opinion from the attorney general's office on how the city is handing its executive-session minutes.

At-large City Councilor Michael R. Bardsley said he learned of the destruction of the notes in a phone conversation with the council's executive secretary, Mary L. Midura, who told him she was instructed by City Attorney Janet M. Sheppard to shred and delete them, according to Bardsley's account of that conversation.

Here's a snip from an editorial that appeared in the Gazette on July 13:

"Among the most recent minutes released are those of a nearly hour-long closed-door session in which the council ultimately voted to borrow $1.2 million to buy properties around the regional dump off Glendale Road. The move was reportedly made to end costly litigation that was continuing to spiral upward, but there is no record in the minutes of the council's May 21 deliberations, nor any record of the information presented to city leaders by attorneys on hand. In our opinion, this is wrong because, apart from a mayoral press release after the Gazette broke a story on the issue, the public will never fully know what transpired before the council that night.

The lack of these details not only stifles the public's right to know, but it flies in the face of the state attorney general's Open Meeting Law guidelines."

Those are strong words from the Gazette, a newspaper that has traditionally been reluctant to criticize Northampton's 5-term mayor.

Of course, since this is an election year, the mayor's supporters are out trying to deflect attention from this embarrassing and possibly damning topic, and trying to make the mud stick her political opponent in the upcoming race, Councilor Michael Bardsley.

Here's a letter to the editor penned by Valle Dwight, a mayoral cheerleader of long standing:

"As a former reporter who has dealt extensively with towns that did not follow either the letter or the spirit of the open meeting law, I was pleased to see this story about minutes of executive sessions of city council meetings. Northampton needs to give its citizens insight into how decisions are made.

However, the quote from Michael Bardsley: "I was surprised that the minutes were so devoid of content." is disingenuous at best. The city council votes to approve all minutes, including executive session minutes. I assume that he reads the minutes before he votes to approve them, so I don't know how this could possibly come as a surprise to him.

If he is a big proponent of transparency, why has he never spoken out about this in 16 years on the council, or why did he approve the minutes? I also wonder why Bardsley was the only councilor quoted for the story, especially without mentioning that he is running for mayor."

Here's Councilor Michael Bardsley's response, widely circulated on the web:

"In the recent Weekend Gazette (July 11-12) there appeared a letter to the editor by Ms Valle Dwight questioning my surprise over recent Northampton City Council executive session minutes which contained little or no information about the matters discussed in those meetings. For whatever reason, Ms Dwight's criticism of my response omitted some significant facts.
When the minutes of the executive sessions were presented to the council for approval, I questioned Mayor Higgins as to why there was virtually no content to those minutes. My memory was that minutes of previous executive sessions were more informative than the ones we were being asked to approve. Higgins' response was that the minutes being presented to the council were consistent with how the city handles executive minutes. Rightly or wrongly, I accepted the Mayor's explanation as being accurate and voted to approve.
Next morning I found myself still curious about those sparse minutes. I contacted Assistant City Clerk Lyn Simmons, the previous clerk to the city council, and asked about the executive session minutes she had taken. She stated that her minutes did indeed contain more information than those that the council had approved the night before. Apparently the Mayor had been incorrect.
I then contacted the current clerk to the council, Executive Secretary Mary Midura, and asked her if the minutes she had submitted were indeed the same set of minutes which appeared before the council. She stated that they were not. She further explained that she had submitted minutes containing information comparable to previous executive session minutes but City Solicitor Janet Sheppard had expunged all the content. When I asked Ms Midura if she still had those draft minutes, she stated that the City Solicitor had not only confiscated her draft minutes but had also instructed her to shred all her notes of those executive sessions and to delete the draft copy of those minutes from her computer.
I then questioned why Ms. Midura would follow the directives of the City Solicitor when her direct supervisor was the City Council President, James Dostal. She explained that Mr. Dostal had instructed her to do whatever the City Solicitor wanted her to do.
When Dan Crowley contacted me about my questioning of the executive session minutes the evening before, I shared with him the information I had learned from Ms Simmons and Ms Midura. When he asked if I was surprised that the minutes were void of content, I thought my positive response was quite understated. I have not said any more publicly on this issue because I first wanted to speak directly with the City Solicitor, whose has been out of town on vacation. However, Ms Dwight's partially informative letter could not go without a response.
Ms Dwight, let me be clear. In my sixteen years as a member of the Northampton City Council nothing comparable to this has ever happened. That is the only reason why I have spoken out at this time.

However, the truth be known, I am not surprised; but I am shocked."

Friday, July 10, 2009

Public Comment, City Council, 070709

Here's public comment from Thursday night's city council meeting.
Big questions: Should the landfill expansion go to the voters? Should the city of Northampton impose a local option meals tax? This is more fun to watch than to read about, so here y'are. Have chopped it into 4 sections.

Many thanks to NCTV, who were happy to have me hang about the studio and extract web-quality video from their raw file this afternoon. The transcode took about two hours, which provided an opportunity to catch up w Al Williams, Bryn Francis, and their new access coordinator, Ben Brown, who seems, as we used to say up in Maine, wicked smaht.

In general, lots of unhappiness about the city council gag order (the city council has been told by the city solicitor not to speak with Northampton citizens about the landfill expansion), and a generally-expressed wish for transparency from city hall and the council. Watch Alex Ghiselin at the beginning of clip four; he makes an interesting proposal.

Lots of restaurant and hotel people--owners, managers, and workers--came to speak out against the local option meals tax. The best comment was made by the owner of Viva Fresh Pasta, who suggested instituting a therapy and lawyer tax if the city is going to tax restaurant meals. "We're all in the same service industry," she remarked. She noted that restaurant owners are under pressure to pay a living wage, and described the plight of a dishwasher slogging away till one o'clock in the morning, whom she would love to be able to pay more than eight dollars an hour.

Tax and fee advocate Pamela Schwartz, who's running for city council, spoke in favor of the proposal. "Northampton does not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem," she opined. The city council apparently agreed, as it approved the meals tax proposal later in the evening.

There was a great music scene happening at Sam's on Thursday; several who left the meeting after public comment ventured across the street to buy a slice of pizza, hang around on the sidewalk, and listen to the local jazzers play. What a beautiful town.

above: suzanne beck, dan yacuzzo, mansour ghalibaf

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fryin' Fish

Am hard at work publicizing a blog designed to unite communities nationwide that are confronting the prospect of hosting large-scale wood-burning biomass plants. Am collaborating with some folks who are working in Washington to fix HR 2454, AKA the Waxman-Markey Climate Bill.

As you've probably heard, the CO2 emitted by biomass plants falls through a carbon-accounting loophole. This CO2 is not regulated by the RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), is not regulated by the US EPA, not regulated by the MA DEP, and would not be regulated under the federal cap-and-trade system as proposed.

Kicker is, wood-burning biomass plants emit more CO2 per unit of energy produced than the worst coal plants. Don't believe it? Here's some documentation.

We're being told, by government officials and entrepreneurs, that wood-burning biomass plants are "carbon-neutral." This just isn't so. Read this article if you want a quick understanding of carbon accounting as it relates to forestry products. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),

“Biomass fuels are included in the national energy and CO2 emissions accounts for information only. Within the energy module biomass consumption is assumed to equal its regrowth. Any departures from this hypothesis are counted within the Land Use Change and Forestry module.”

This means that if carbon is not counted as an emission when trees are incinerated, it should at least be counted when the trees get cut down. In Massachusetts, this only happens when there is a wholesale change in land use--from forest to housing development, for instance. Heavy logging to produce biomass fuels flies under the radar of the carbon counters, as does incineration itself.

Just because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has chosen not to count carbon emissions from wood biomass incinerators does not mean that they are "carbon-neutral."

But I digress.

I know there's a lot going on in Northampton. Will try to do my part.

But in the meantime, check out our little biomass communities blog project: we've already got readers from all over the country, and have developed an audience that includes national-level environmentalists and policy makers. It's kind of exciting.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Village Hill NPC; Percolate

Left: members of the Hospital Hill Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) deliberate.

In case you missed it the first time---here's a public document from the archives. Essential reading for anyone who is interested in the Hospital Hill story. In a nutshell: how is it that a lunatic asylum got taken over by a military contractor? Somebody with a more poetic writing style than mine might wish to take that one on. And perhaps the story needs to percolate: ten years from now, how will things be working on Hospital Hill?

May 2008 Notice of Project Change (pdf), submitted to the EOEA MEPA office by Hospital Hill Development LLC. Proponents successfully petitioned the state for an amendment of a standing master plan which directed the redevelopment of a former
State Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts. The original plan had called for moderately-scaled mixed-use development. Approved by MEPA officer Bill Gage. Document prepared by Maynard-based Epsilon Associates.

Here's the project description:
Modification of Memorial Campus Master Plan and sale of 11 acres to Kollmorgen Corporation for construction of an R&D/manufacturing facility and creation of new jobs. Change of Project Name.

Project Name: Village Hill, Northampton IEOEA #: 12629
Street: Route 66 (Chapel StreetlWest StreetIEarle Street)
Municipality: Northampton
Watershed: Connecticut River

Proponent: Hospital Hill Development LLC
160 Federal Street
Boston, MA 02 110

The Community Builders, Inc.
322 Main Street
Springfield, MA 01105-2408

Name of Contact Person From Whom Copies of this NPC May Be Obtained:
Corinne Snowdon
FirmIAgency: Epsilon Associates, Inc. I Street: 3 Clock Tower Place, Suite 250
Municipality: Maynard I State: MA I Zip Code: 01754
Phone: 978-897-7100 I Fax: 978-897-0099 I E-maiI:csnowdon@epsilonassociates.com

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Regional Impact, Four Large Power Plants

Left: Developer Matt Wolfe, 34, principal of Cambridge-based Madera Energy, answering questions posed by the Greenfield, Massachusetts, Zoning Board of Appeals.

Two weeks ago, as a reporter for Northampton's Valley Advocate, I traveled to Western New England College in Springfield to cover a panel discussion on biomass plant development in Western Massachusetts. (Plants are planned for Springfield, Pittsfield, Russell, and Greenfield.)

There has been no state-level analysis to date of the combined impact of the four plants on our region-- yet state environmental chief Ian Bowles seems to be fast-tracking these projects through the permitting process.

Read my report here: http://www.valleyadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=9967

Local journalism on the biomass issue: Monte Belmonte, WRSI radio host, has posted a terrific podcast interview with engineer Mark Beaubian, who, in high science geek style, takes issue with information presented by project developers. Here's another podcast interview w Beaubian, who blasts state and local government for fast-tracking biomass plants in Western Massachusetts.

Monte has also posted a podcast interview with Electrical worker Bob Wilson, who supports the plant.

Chris Collins Calls Out Gfld ZBA

WHMP News Director Chris Collins, in a podcast posted today, takes the Greenfield Zoning Board of Appeals to task for voting on Madera Energy's special permit application at 8 o'clock on a Monday morning.

"I don't care how anybody on the board feels personally about this issue...What I do care about is that they uphold the town zoning regulations and have some respect for the people whose interest they're appointed to protect."

hear it: http://podcast.whmp.com/whmp/1822839.mp3