Monday, October 31, 2011

Fireground Mt Pollux Amherst

Engine-2, a pumper with a light duty, 75' aerial device
AFD Chief Nelson on the scene

Amherst Firefighters responded to a Halloween night structure fire, probably chimney related, on Mt Pollux Drive around 10:00 PM and had it quickly under control. The house is located at the top of a short very steep incline, but enough hardware managed to make the ascent and no one was injured.

The Day After

Amherst Town Center, Amity Street, Sunday morning

This storm will go down in history for wreaking havoc of an economic and social kind, but amazingly it was not the serial killer it could have been. The town's Wi-Fi is now back up, having been down since late Saturday night.

I hope somebody considers a capital item to purchase a generator for Town Hall to keep it up during a power failure as these days so very many people have mobile devices that could have tapped into the web to communicate with loved ones, or just get an update on the storm and its aftermath.

College Street early Sunday morning

Amherst College lost mostly large branches

Gas Station on College Street
Street light beheaded in Town Center (12 hours later became hazard with power return)
Grove of birch trees bow down to the weight of the storm
New fence around Emily Dickinson Homestead took a few hits
Dickinson Street
Cumberland Farms on College Street: about the only store open with power and mobbed, running out of gas around 3:00 PM

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Battle stations

9:00 PM

While Amherst public safety personnel were on high alert this Halloween weekend for the plethora of loud drunken parties expected, the situation changed dramatically this afternoon as a winter storm rolled in, felling trees and limbs--many of them also taking down power and phone lines resulting in electrical outages, transformer fires, and impassable roads.

DPW road crews--especially the tree division--and crews from WMECO have joined the battle. It's going to be a very l-o-n-g night.

Slip sliding away

Professor Hyunsuk Lee (yellow) and her merry band of Korean students

And they're off

About 100 runners braved the cold weather and mud this morning to participate in the 7th Annual Larch Hill English Style Cross Country Classic held at the sprawling Bramble Hill Farm about a mile south of Amherst town center.

Little kids kicked off the event with a 100 yard dash, medium kids did a mile, while the hardy adults negotiated three miles. All proceeds benefit the educational collaborative between Bramble Hill Farm, and their immediate neighbors, Common School and Hitchcock Center.Ten South Korean college students on a whirlwind tour of Massachusetts also participated in the race. I would love to have dragged a few of my "Party House of the Weekend" winners out of bed early this morning for a UMass team to compete against our Asian visitors.

Why the Koreans would win

Friday, October 28, 2011

It's begining to look a lot like

The Barn

Who needs a barometer; I have my neighbor, the DPW. Today they broke out the free sand pile, telling me winter is coming (or maybe it was the snow squall last night.)

Weekend throw down

Yeah, this is the B-I-G party weekend--probably more so than September 9, which culminated in a riot at 121 Meadow Street with rocks and bottles launched at public safety personnel. But maybe the colder, wetter weather will act as a deterrent...maybe.

Either way it's still "all-hands-on-deck" mode for UMass and Amherst police and the Amherst Fire Department. For AFD it's a dual threat, as dumpster fires seem to spontaneously occur late at night like fireworks on the 4th of July, and ETOH (alcohol overdose) students, one or two drinks away from death, litter the landscape.

The AP reported--and our local papers dutifully picked up--the sorry saga of students arrested by the busload at Gillette Stadium while attending the UMass/UNH football game last Saturday, which attracted far fewer fans than the previous New England Patriots game but had far more arrests for alcohol related matters.

Yeah, that's the kind of press UMass needs as they make the big expensive jump to Mid-American Conference next year.

Foxborough Police Chief Edward O'Leary is concerned because UMass has five games scheduled there next year. Lucky thing he's not police chief in Amherst, dealing with this dangerous nonsense most fair weather weekends.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

No trivial pur$uit

Representative Ellen Story and her saucy sequined blue dress

In spite of the snow the Amherst Middle School auditorium was packed with people of all ages to watch four member teams sponsored by local businesses answer obscure questions without benefit of the answer God, Google.

Tonight's 17th annual Trivia Bee, promoted by the Amherst Education Foundation, is expected to raise in the neighborhood of $10,000 for the Amherst schools. No extra charge for all the fun.

Bad Form Rising

Select Board member Jim Wald posted to the unofficial Amherst Town Meeting listserve (privately owned by Mother Mary Streeter, protector of all things Larkspur Drive) an ominous sign for proponents of article #17, Form Based Zoning--the most controversial warrant article coming before Fall Town Meeting.

The information packet snail mailed to all Town Meeting members will be slightly delayed because when town staff crammed the quaint 9" by 12" brown manila envelopes with all the information printed on the remains of dead trees, the mailer was overweight by USPS bulk mail standards (and generous are those standards). Yikes!

Of course the main reason was the plethora of paper pertaining to Form Based Zoning. And as pretty as it is with all the color graphs and architectural renderings, as with Godzilla movies, size does matter.

Form Based Zoning is already in trouble because as the name succinctly says it's all about zoning, with zoning requiring a two-thirds super majority of Amherst Town Meeting. And naysayers (NIMBYs) are usually more motivated than calm, rational altruistic members who simply have the best interests of the town at heart.

Town officials should take a hint from the simple two-word description of the zoning amendment and synthesize all the supporting materials down to one single page of text, about the same number Lincoln used in the Gettysburg Address.

Town Meeting is about as simple an institution as you can get, so by all means, apply the KISS principle!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

John, we knew ye well

Congressman John Olver

So the announcement this afternoon from Amherst resident Congressman John Olver about his retirement at the end of this term is kind of like when a sickly relative passes away after a very long illness: you're still surprised, even though it's hardly unexpected.

And I learned the news from my Facebook buddy--also an Amherst resident--Stan Rosenberg who posted it about an hour ago, thanking the Congressman for his four decades of public service. Of course Stan is now in a slightly weird position because it's a forgone conclusion he will run for the open seat if his redistricting committee does not nuke it first.

If he votes to keep the seat and then runs for it, his opponent (presumably a nasty Republican) will have a field day with that. Even the left leaning Boston Globe mentioned Stan co-owning a Beacon Hill condo with Congressman Olver, and he started out as his legislative aid.

But Stan is the hardest working guy in politics, and if anybody deserves to be a Congressman, he does. Besides, they're both from Amherst.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bus stop, bus go

Buses wait for their precious cargo at Crocker Farm School

Every now and then the Amherst Police Department prefers not to score suspects when participating in undercover crackdowns, such as their participation last week in "Operation Yellow Blitz," a state wide initiative to bolster the safety of school children who ride those ubiquitous yellow buses to school and back every weekday.

About 125 police departments joined in the safety effort which coincided with " National School Bus Safety Week." And in Amherst, it was indeed safe.

According the Captain Jennifer Gundersen: "We're happy to report that we had 3 enforcement initiatives (2 assigned to a morning commute and 1 to an afternoon commute) and the officers observed no violations."

Amherst SB: "Okay with that?"

Monday, October 24, 2011

Amherst Supports Business Improvement District

Barry Roberts, Jerry Jolly Co-Chairs Promoting Downtown Amherst

The Amherst Select Board voted unanimously to support the organization of a downtown Business Improvement District financed by a self-imposed, additional property tax collected by the town with the extra money going towards capital improvements (benches, lighting, plantings, etc) and advertising/marketing the wide variety of goods and services provided by downtown merchants.

Promoting Downtown Amherst co-chair Jerry Jolly reports 65% of downtown businesses have signed on (state law requires 50%) as well as Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts, our two main educational institutions and the top two landowners in town.
Todd Diacon, UMass Deputy Chancellor, Jim Brassord Director of Facilities Amherst College

The hearing tonight was packed with supporters and not a single detractor. SB Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe pointed out the board could continue the Public Hearing for a couple weeks in case somebody missed the opportunity to oppose the project, but she also noted that the BID only impacts the business community, so little opposition or concern from NIMBYs was expected.

If the town is also going to contribute funds that will have to get Town Meeting approval in the future.

The BID will put downtown Amherst on the same level footing as the nearby Hadley Malls which charge all the tenants a similar fee for joint promotions and improvements (and have a lot more parking).

Pushing our luck

Once again this past weekend we had the not uncommon situation where all four on-duty ambulances were simultaneously tied up, meaning none available to respond had you called with a real emergency late Friday night.

And what were those four emergencies? Well if you read my post this morning you should be able to guess, as that particular Party House was half the problem. Yes, all four ambulances were required to ferry four college students to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital due to ETOH, an overdose of alcohol.

That kind of avoidable, irresponsible behavior endangers the particular students themselves and the general public left waiting should they require immediate help.

AFD weekend statistics
And according to AFD Chief Tim Nelson, Thursday was hectic as well:

"I just compiled the stats from Thursday 10/20, 6pm to Friday 10/21 6pm. It breaks out like this:

UMASS – 6 Responses: 1 Fire Alarm; 5 EMS, one of which was an ETOH female.

Hampshire College – 2 Responses: 2 EMS, one of which was an ETOH male.

Town – 13 Responses: 11 EMS; 1 Fire Alarm; 1 Car into People’s United Bank.

During that 24 hour period we also requested station coverage 6 times due to all of our resources being committed to calls for service."

ETOH=Alcohol overdose

Party House(s) of the weekend

872 North Pleasant Street, Amherst

These rowdy kids were lucky APD did not also issue them each a $300 "nuisance house" ticket on top of the $300 noise violation tickets issued very early Saturday morning (1:30 AM).

According to Amherst Police Department narrative:

RP reports a large party, bottles being thrown

Excessive loud party with approximately 300+ guests on property. Upon arrival guests were observed kicking bottles into the street. All four residents placed under arrest for TBL noise. One under arrest for minor in possession. Two ETOH (passed out drunk) parties one male, one female transported by Amherst Fire Department to Cooley Dickinson Hospital.

James Llewellyn, 11 James Ave, Hull, MA, age 21
John Fay, 75 Edgelawn Ave, N Andover, MA, age 20
Alexander Swanton, 41 Crossbow Ln, Andover, MA, age 20
Michael Serrur, 1046 Church St, Saugerties, NY, age 21
All arrested for noise violation. APD arrived on scene 1:34 AM, cleared the scene 2:03 AM

Assessors Card for ownership of 872 N Pleasant St

76 Taylor Street, Amherst

Now I know this house is located smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood, because it is about five houses away from where I grew up on High Street.

According to APD narrative:

Loud music, noise and voices were emanating from listed location. Residents were not cooperative and did not clear out the party as officers told them. Three males taken into custody.

Silas Ray-Burns, 295 Lincoln Ave, Amherst, MA, age 23
Joseph Quinn, 52 Pond St, N Easton, MA, age 23
Alexander Morrall, 51 Cutler Rd, Barre, MA, age 22
APD dispatched 2:00 AM (early Sunday) cleared 3:49 AM

Owner Card for 76 Taylor Street

Sunday, October 23, 2011

UMass Chancellor strikes back

So it took a while, but the lame duck leader of the flagship University of Massachusetts at Amherst Chancellor Bob Holub responded to the Front Page, above-the-fold-glorification-of-student-parties story that appeared in both the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Amherst Bulletin on September 29--a Friday no less.
Chancellor Robert Holub
His Letter To The Editor appears in this Saturday's Gazette--the most widely read press run of the week--along with two other letters sternly criticizing the student party mentality oozing from the original article by two young champions of the ZooMass image of old, Peter Clark and Emerson Rutkowski.

I actually tried to get our venerable Amherst Select Board to respond with their own Letter To The Editor a couple weeks back, but apparently to no avail.

SB Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe can publicly criticize our beleaguered DPW for not completing construction of the downtown Spring Street parking lot in the middle of an unexpected monsoon season, but hides her head in the mud when it comes to riotous student behavior that degrades the quality of life in neighborhoods near and far from UMass, the largest employer in Western Massachusetts and Amherst's second largest landowner--all of it tax exempt.

Spring Street parking lot Friday morning October 21

Sunday Morning

Kendrick Park Amherst Town Center
UMass Parking Lot near Whitmore
Upper Amity Street Town Center

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Better Chance

Runners line up 10:30 AM

About 100 runners and half again as many walkers, a dozen or so dogs, and half again as many baby carriages participated in the 40th annual A Better Chance 5K Fall Foliage race/walk to benefit the program that brings disadvantaged minority youth to live in Amherst and attend Amherst Regional High School. Since the programs inception forty years ago, 120 youths have graduated from ARHS.

My stragglers

Jada and Kira come in together (behind Mom, Karen and Jake the dog)

And then there was one

The Republican 1860 Main Street, Springfield

The Republican, Massachusetts' 4th largest newspaper, took a giant leap into the Digital Age by shedding the bricks and mortar ties that bound them to that long ago era when daily newspapers were the ultimate gatekeepers, synthesizing a river of information into a tidy dose of daily news that arrived on your doorstep with an early morning thud.

As of October 1st The Republican has shuttered satellite news office bureaus in Chicopee, Greenfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Palmer and Westfield. Their battleship of a building in Springfield, which houses their seven story, high-speed color press remains firmly afloat however.

Today information comes in tidal waves, and anyone can tap into it directly via the Internet.All a reporter needs is a laptop, camera, cell phone and Wi-Fi connection. The town of Amherst is even kind enough to provide free Wi-Fi in the downtown.
Downtown Wi-Fi emitters
Whether news is gathered in an office cubical over a rotary phone and tapped into a story via a Smith Corona typewriter, or captured on a flip video camera, edited on a MacBook Air and posted directly to YouTube, it's still flesh and blood reporters that ask questions, record results and package them for, potentially, a world wide audience.

And that I hope, will never change.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Back in the saddle

Amherst Town Manager John Musante 11:20 AM today

Amherst Town Manager John Musante returned to his 3rd floor office in Town Hall yesterday as he moves steadily forward recovering from a head injury sustained on the early morning of September 6 while out walking his dog.

The Town Manager will continue with part time morning office hours and work from home, building his way back to a full-time regimen, but will not be attending this coming Monday night Select Board meeting.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Help Delayed = Dangerzone

Main Street/South Whitney Friday 5:00 PM 10/14/11

Welcome Reddit/UMass readers. Click the "nuisance house" tag for the cavalcade of party house winners over the past year
God help Amherst residents should a medical emergency or fire have happened last Saturday night around 10:00 PM; sure, Northampton FD would have arrived...eventually.

Rowdy student behavior doesn't just keep residents awake on weekends--it also squanders the precious resources of the Amherst Fire Department. And it's not like UMass has a fire department of its own.

The Mullins Center, owned by UMass, so a tax exempt entity, hosted a giant party on Saturday night in the form of Deadmau5 a DJ "artist" who mixes music and probably plays it loud enough to garner a $300 noise ticket if he were playing on Meadow Street or Hobart Lane.

The AFD wisely based an ambulance and paramedic crew on scene and, sure enough, they handled eight cases (alcohol related) thus avoiding a costly trip in time to the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, where the average turn around for handling a single drunk student (once they get there) is an hour, more like an hour-and-a-half if blood, vomit or other body fluids spill inside the ambulance.

Meanwhile between 9:16 PM and 11:50 PM four more cases of ETOH (too much alcohol) required transport to the hospital, thus depleting the cavalry should Fort Amherst require assistance. You know, the normal working person who pays property taxes to help finance our $4 million Fire/EMS system.

Yes, the student call force (for fire calls only) and one professional firefighter to supervise were available, but if your most precious asset was in imminent danger--is that the response you expect?

Update/correction: UMass does pay a fee (like hiring police for a traffic detail) for the extra ambulance assigned to the Mullins Center for special occasions.
The UMass Daily Collegian reports (the fines are working!)

Just another typical weekend for AFD

AFD reports

Planting seeds of entrepreneurship

Kira Kelley looks on as Mom and Irv Rhodes present Junior Achievement

If, as our neighboring city's most prominent pol once stated, "The chief business of the American people is business," the message was lost on Amherst--where 91% of the tax levy comes from residential property and only 9% from commercial/business.

Amherst School Committee Chair Irv Rhodes, Principal Mike Morris, and Donna Kelley, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Babson College, have teamed up to implement an All American solution to that imbalance, while simultaneously offering an antidote to unemployment, poverty and all its associated ills.

Junior Achievement USA brings experienced volunteers into the classroom to explain capitalism and commerce especially as it relates to starting your own business; and even more important, how to nurture that business for long term survival, even in this challenging economy.

In addition to teaching at Babson College, the #1 rated school in America for entrepreneurship, Donna Kelley co-founded a local small business 30 years ago when she first moved to Amherst. Irv Rhodes, founder and CEO of Community Funding Partners, Inc will co-teach the weekly after school program at Crocker Farm Elementary School, where a significant percentage of students qualify for reduced lunch costs due to low income.

"Training at a young age cultivates an entrepreneurial spirit early on," said Kelley. "Besides skill-building, training increases an individual's awareness of entrepreneurship and their intent to start a business, and improves perceptions about their ability to do so."

Her daughter Kira, a 4th grader, is one of the eleven students attending the program and she has already become a skilled negotiator.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Party House (s) of the Weekend

49 Fearing Street, Amherst (owned by Frank and Sue Hugus)

Nothing as outrageous as urination from a second story window or assaulting a police cruiser seeking release of four wild woman friends taken into custody, just the standard loud noise and underage drinking. Loud enough to disturb neighbors who call the Amherst Police Department to seek relief. And relief they get.

According to APD narrative: 12:38 AM (early Sunday morning):

"Large group of people on front porch, front lawn and in roadway in front of munter 49. Upon attemtping to locate a resident, doors were slammed and locked, residents refused to speak with officers. Officers located and identified three residents who were placed under arrest for the noise."
Nicholas Petrisis, 28 Upper Palmer Rd, Monson, MA, age 21
Garrett Jones, 22 Eagleville Rd, Orange, MA, age 21
David Decoteau, 22 Candice Circle, Springfield, MA, age 21
675 Main Street, Amherst

Since 675 Main Street is a repeat offender all five residents were given both "noise" and "nuisance house" violations, or $600 each offender for a total of $3,000 to that one household.

Tyler Hunt, 4 Rainbow Circle, Bourne, MA, age 19
Joseph Johnson, 8 Sabbatt Rd, Bourne, MA age 20
Mark Ventresco, 10 Maple Ave, Sharon, MA, age 19
Mitchell Ganz, 8 Terrence Dr, Manalapan, NJ, age 19
Joseph Fanella, 215 Pebble Beach Ct, Holmdel, NJ, age 20

Property owner card for 675 Main Street, Amherst

Meanwhile, for anyone wondering why the Amherst flags are at half staff today:

Governor Patrick has ordered the American and Commonwealth Flags lowered to half-staff on October 17, 2011 from sunrise to sunset in honor of Specialist Steven E. Gutowski of Plymouth, Massachusetts Staff who died in Afghanistan on September 28, 2011

He was 24.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

When Ideologies Clash

Amherst Town Common 12:30 PM

South Pleasant Street/Town Center 1:30 PM

Opposing chants of "USA! USA!" vs. "We are the 99%!" echoed across Amherst town common this afternoon, briefly interrupted by the loud thud of a driver--distracted by attempting to photograph the confrontation--rear ending another car.
Note to Jeep driver: No photos while driving

Occupy Amherst staked out the green on the south common directly in front of the Lord Jeff Inn around noon as around 50-60 people turned out to show solidarity with the original occupiers of Wall Street--a peoples movement that has now become a cultural phenomena.

The Tea Party (Western Mass 9/12 Project), about half the size of Occupy Amherst, claimed asphalt about 50 yards to the west more directly in town center--although a couple dozen yards south of the regular anti-war Sunday afternoon peace activists who have called the corner of South Pleasant and Main Street home for forty years now.

Amherst Town Center Main/S Pleasant 12:10 PM

And if that were not enough activism for one sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Amherst, a few independent contractors--one bordering on anti-Semitic--also came to question the official common sense conclusion of the 9/11 Commission.
A women in the "Occupy" camp asked him to move away--far away from them

All in all, a glorious day for Democracy in the People's Republic of Amherst.

AFD Doubleheader

Yesterday it was the Amherst Fire Department Open House in town center at central station, and this morning a just as well received Pancake Breakfast at the North Station, with all of the money raised going to help finance the SAFE Program, an education alliance between the schools and fire departments teaching children safety protocols that could someday safe their life or that of loved ones.

My daughter Kira is excited about the graduation ceremony on Tuesday night.

Who can resist pancakes on a sparkling fall Sunday?