Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Diving Into Disaster

Select Board July 18 short one member and a Temporary Town Manager

Last night at just after 11:30 PM -- five hours into their meeting -- with nobody left in the audience the Select Board, after only five minutes of discussion, unanimously voted to support a controversial  November 8 ballot question.

No, not the recreational marijuana question ... but it does make me wonder what they were smoking during that five minute break earlier in the meeting.

Just as they spent maybe five minutes discussing it back on July 18th when they unanimously voted to place it on the ballot.

Thus the Select Board has graphically demonstrated their true believer naïveté by cheerleading the $65 million Debt Exclusion for the new Mega School.

If passed the town portion (about 50%) to finance that shiny new building will come to over $300 per year for the median value home in Amherst, where our tax rate is already top ten in the state.

Click to enlarge

But I'm sure the Select Board will spend lots more time explaining their vote over the next six weeks than they took coming to it in the first place.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Drunken Spree Continues

The "flagship" of higher education in all of Massachusetts needs to do a better job educating their students about the deleterious effects of alcohol when not taken as prescribed, i.e. in moderation.

And I don't think a drunk index of .50 is too much to ask. As opposed to last weekend's .79

Not only do ETOH calls create an expensive trip to the hospital but it also ties up an ambulance for a little over an hour -- and even with peak weekend staffing, assisted by UMass payment of $80K per year, we only have five ambulances.

If you look at the first five ETOH entries under University of Massachusetts note all five occurred within a 1.5 hour period, which pushed the envelope for ambulance availability.

Just one more call -- like a senior citizen having a heart attack -- would then have to be handled by an ambulance from Northampton or Belchertown, which takes (too) many vital extra minutes.

Cable Showdown

Comcast 1st took over the  Amherst cable franchise in 2006

The Select Board will decide this evening if the final offer from Comcast for $1.125 million in one time capital payments -- up from $450,000 ten years ago -- is close enough for Amherst, although the original asking price was twice that.

Amherst Media is rallying the troops to pressure the SB into rejecting the offer in favor of their final counteroffer request made through the Amherst Cable Advisory Committee of $1.6 million. 

So yes, the battle lines are drawn a bit like moon river: wider than a mile.

Amherst Media email to supporters (Click to enlarge/read)

If the Select Board rejects the 10 year license renewal, which has an October 15 deadline, Comcast would file an appeal in order to protect their $7 to $8 million per year market and the legal battle would, according to the Town Manager. "cost the Town significant legal fees."

Temporary Town Manager Pete Hechenbleikner recommended approval when the final offer was at $950,000 and new permanent Town Manager Paul Bockelman entered the fray late but got the final final offer up to the current $1.125 million, which he now recommends the Select Board accept.

So tune in tonight before the Presidential debate for the exciting outcome on the Amherst Media government channel, or maybe I'll livestream it on Facebook.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Water Woes Update

Drought map both colorful and scary
Atkins Reservoir on September 21,  the day it went off line 

The DPW gave a presentation to the Water Supply Protection Committee on Thursday morning with the same slides they use for the UMass, Hampshire and Amherst College officials weekly update and the news was mostly good.  Mostly.

 Wells have safety margin of 1.2 mgd, so as long as Well 3 or 4 does not go down ...

As long as you're not a pessimist and fear a major fire, water main break or pump failure at one of the major wells.

Water main break June 3rd
 Alpine Commons fire June 4th
Only broke the 3.5 mgd once

The main thing is water restrictions are working and by keeping consumption to under 3.5 million gallons per day the town can handle the load using only wells.  Which is a good thing since the only things we have at the moment and for at last another month to six weeks are the wells.

Atkins Reservoir closed with water levels down 9' 7" just shy of the record ten feet in 1982 but that year it closed a few weeks later so if not taken off line September 21 would probably exceed the 10 foot mark by October.

The main factor needed to disrupt the drought is rain.  Lots of it.

The Committee talked briefly about tapping into the Quabbin but town engineer Jason Skeels pointed out what a nightmare it would be to run pipes through the underground ledges in Pelham.  And the other option -- opening yet another well -- is also an expensive proposition.

And either of those options would take forever to implement.  The better course is to continue paying strict attention to water conservation, and pray for rain.

Quabbin Reservor 9/24 at 85% full

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The ARA Is Back

The ARA crown jewel:  Boltwood Project circa 1970s

The Amherst Redevelopment Authority, a quasi-state agency with the power of eminent domain, met for the first time in five years on Wednesday and discussed future projects based on areas of town that are "underdeveloped and underutilized."

The four elected members were present -- Jim Turner, Peggy Roberts, Pam Rooney and Pat Holland -- as well as Planning Board director Chris Brestrupt and senior Planner Jonathan Tucker and the town's economic development director Geof Kravitz.  

The Governor's appointee position (the 5th member) is currently vacant but already Paige Wilder, who lost to Pam Rooney a few years back, has applied for the position.  

The ARA was intensely active a half-dozen years ago with the Gateway Project where UMass was willing to donate former Frat Row on North Pleasant Street for a mixed use signature project that would have provided badly needed student housing and a "gateway" to downtown Amherst.

The well organized NIMBYs assailed the project for all the usual reasons and UMass withdrew the offer. 

These are the four areas that are  now on the to do list of the ARA:

Kellogg Ave between N. Pleasant and Smith Street bordered by West Cemetery
The Depot district bordered by rr tracks Dickinson and Main Streets
College Street around Eversource brick building (currently occupied by Amherst Media)
 North Amherst center behind the Library

Friday, September 23, 2016

Charter Choice

Amherst Charter Commission last night

After an hour of discussion/debate the 9 member Charter Commission split along ideological lines with a 6-3 vote to hire the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass/Boston as their guide over the next year to help bring a new and improved government structure to our little college town.

After the vote Gerry Weiss quipped that he would not "write a minority report" over this issue but earlier in the meeting described it as the, "First time we have a difficult decision to make."

Why the three Town Meeting cheerleader (Weiss, Stein & Gage) thought the KP Law consultants would better serve their agenda is anyone's guess but they did seem to think they would be better at dealing with "conflict resolution" among the group.

Which is sure to come up one of these days when the discussion to ditch Town Meeting comes to a vote.

And when they lose that one by a 6-3 vote safe bet Mr. Weiss will surely write that minority report.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sinking In A Sandtrap

Lower Main Street Thursday afternoon.  The flag can stay
Lower Main Street Saturday morning

Now if these kids knew anything about Amherst they would know golf is not all that high on the list, considering the municipal white elephant Cherry Hill Golf Course loses money hand over fist every season since Reagan was President (and Johnny Carson in his prime).

So yeah, I will be sure to send B2 on a mission tomorrow just after high noon to see their decision.

Building Inspector may want to investigate the "4 unrelated housemates" bylaw as well