Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NIMBY Knock Out?

 Ye Old Amherst (unlined) Landfill

Looks like the top two weapons in the NIMBY arsenal for disrupting the deal to bring a solar farm to ye old Amherst landfill may be scuttled by the Massachusetts state legislature.  The lawsuit citing an antiquated DEP deed restriction for keeping landfills free of any development except passive recreation could be swept aside by a new ordinance specifically freeing landfills from any such trivial outdated mandates.

And now the once all-powerful anti-development nuke known as Massachusetts Endangered Species Act may lose some of its Divine power to preserve, protect and coddle critters like the Grasshopper Sparrow who currently make their home on the grassy wide expanse covering the fermented, decayed garbage.

Apparently when it comes to renewable energy, our state legislators have seen the light.

At 4.75 mega watts, Amherst would be one of the state's largest

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lost Weekend

The last weekend in July proved to be as noteworthy crime wise as the first weekend in July, as in not very--which is of course a good thing.    Just the usual domestic problems, an overexposed homeless person , a skunk and bear invasion, and a couple of DUIs.

So I'm going to leave it up to you, my wise readers, to decide what is noteworthy in a news sort of way and what is not, as in "dog bites man."

Amherst (MA) Police Department media logs 7/29/12 through 7/30/12

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Flame of Hope

APD Chief Livingstone (center) cheers the troops 

If your mother ever gave you the sound advice, "Don't run from the law..." why not make mom really proud and run WITH the law.  All for a great cause.  Special Olympics.

The Amherst Police Department will once again sponsor and participate--and invites us civilians to join them--in the Law Enforcement Torch Run relay, a three mile jaunt from APD headquaters in downtown Amherst to the UMass Southwest Towers on Saturday, August 11 starting at 7:10 PM .  It only cost $15 and the t-shirts alone are worth the price (not to mention the sterling company).

Amherst Police headquarters 111 Main Street

Meanwhile Amherst Fire Department Local 1764 took to the roads this morning under threatening skies for the 6th annual Motorcycle Muscular Dystrophy Association Poker Ride.

Goes to show Amherst is blessed with public safety personnel who go above and beyond the call of duty.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Malfunction Junction

 Malfunction Junction, Manchester, VT

If a roundabout or two is good enough for those common sense Yankee types who inhabit Manchester, Vermont, then I have high hopes for our own pair at Atkins Corner, now supposedly slated to open for traffic by August 15. 

Although it seems Amherst is well ahead of Manchester when it comes to construction speed.  Go figure.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Any Given Friday

8:20 PM Downtown Amherst

Amherst Police and Fire personnel tend to Christopher Lynch this evening, one of about a half dozen of the homeless who frequents the downtown, drinks too much, then falls down and cannot get up.


Going to the dogs--in style!

 Pet Hotel Hadley, coming soon

Always nice to see a business opening in the Happy Valley that does not target UMass students.

With the pet care industry recession-proof and their new location about as perfect as you can get, situated halfway between Amherst and Northampton, the new luxurious Pet Hotel Hadley is destined to be the cat's pajamas. 

Two thirds of Americans own animals (about 86 million cats and 78 million dogs) so the market is nothing if not elephantine.

And since veterinary care accounts for the lions share of service oriented annual spending on pets this new operation--specializing in boarding and grooming--will probably not represent a significant threat to long-time local mom and pop operations like Dr. Katz's Hampshire Veterinary Hospital in Amherst or Valley Veterinary Hospital, also located in Hadley.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Take No Prisoners

 Butternut Tree on Shays Street in the public way

Normally I would say anything left leaning will have a long and happy life in the People's Republic of Amherst--just not when it's a tree leaning in the direction of a utility powerline.  For instance, take this butternut on Shays Street--which they are about to do.

Amherst Tree warden Alan Snow gave me a demonstration last week of an inspection double-check on trees marked for death by Western Mass Electric Co. This butternut, besides the lean, has a host of problems--exposed roots, bug bore damage, rip away bark, and a couple of splits he could put his hand in.
Sure he could insist that WMECO simply trim off the overhanging limb as the tree would most likely survive...for now. Until all the other problems meet up with a major storm.
 Tree Warden and DPW division director of trees and parks, Alan Snow

Being judge/jury/executioner for the town's tree canopy is a tough job--perhaps made even tougher by  town meeting approval for 2,000 new trees. Healthy trees--even beautiful old historic ones--are now more subject to extermination for the convenience of developers and the utilities simply because they are so easily replaced by new ones, although a lot less beautiful and historic.

Therefor it's even more imperative we have someone who will speak for the trees.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Parking Problems

 Newfangled Parking Machines

So it comes as no surprise that overall parking revenues are down $52,716 compared to last year. The new Internet based computerized system took some getting used to, and the Spring Street Parking lot--in a super prime town center location--took many months to renovate.

Of course the real cost is hard to calculate as that $52,716--when measure in nickels and dimes-- represents drivers who did not come to our downtown to shop, eat or catch a movie.  Or perhaps they did come, but then drove away in anger and hence may never come back. 

But town officials are working on it.  They made a (long) check list.  And the Chamber of Commerce and new Business Improvement District will chime in with (self) helpful suggestions.

Amherst Parking Machine Problems

Meanwhile, summers in a college town are the slowest/deadliest time of year for business--unless of course you sell frozen yogurt.

FroyoWorld, North Pleasant Street
GoBerry, Amity Street

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guppies Rejoice

Although you will not know it by perusing the town website (and currently the phones lines are down so you cannot call to confirm either) the War Memorial Wading Pool is, finally, open.  As you can imagine anything mechanical constructed when Give 'em Hell, Harry (Truman) was in office is prone to cascading failures:  you fix one thing and something else goes.

So parents, you may want to enjoy it will you can.  I'm told by a nice lifeguard that the hours (starting today) are weekdays 11:00 AM until 4:00 PM and weekends 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

About the only good idea former Town Manager Larry Shaffer (and now former city manager of Jackson, MI) had over his three year tenure here was to consider turning the wading pool and basketball court at War Memorial into a spray park like the one at Look Park in Northampton. 

Since the state was kind enough to cover most of the cost of renovating War Memorial (what us townies used to call "the big pool"), town officials should reconsider Mr. Shaffer's idea in the near future.  Heck, maybe Larry will return to Amherst to oversee the project.

Party House of the Weekend

Hey just because it's the middle of the summer in a bucolic college town like Amherst doesn't mean the few, the proud have to stand down.  These kids are holding down the party fort until reinforcements arrive next month.

According to APD logs (1:24 AM early Saturday)

RP reports loud voices in area

Arrived on scene and observed a female party climbing into a second floor window from the porch roof.  Loud voices and laughing heard from the residence.  Guests did not open door for officers.  Several guests hid in another room with the door closed after being instructed to leave.  All residents under 21 years of age.  Yard/driveway house filled with empty or half empty beer cans and bottles.  Residents identified and advised they would be summonsed for TBL Unlawful Noise.

All three UMass students will be fined $300 and of course UMass officials will be made aware of the transgression.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Construction Continues

In addition to the Atkins Corner reconstruction in South Amherst, the sudden bridge closing in North Amherst, now we have East Amherst joining the growing list of projects bringing headaches to commuters.

The town is closing off Amherst Road during weekday business hours for the sewer line extension up into Pelham.  The state is also scheduled to renovate/replace the Pelham Road Bridge which is located at the half-way point along the sewer line project. 

And yes, we still have the Snell Street Bridge replacement coming soon in the western part of Amherst closing off that busy road.  Let's hope they do not all converge into one BIG perfect, dusty, storm.

Tequila, Cocaine & Speed

 Amherst Police Department

Amherst police arrested three young ladies, all of them UMass students, just off campus early Sunday morning. Two of them--the drivers--potential killers.  Yes, alcohol played a major role.  

According to APD logs: 
Vehicle stopped for speed 45+ in a 25 MPH zone (1:52 AM).  Operator displayed signs of impariment due to alcohol and consented to a Field Sobriety Test.  As the operator exited the vehicle, she attempted to conceal a large open bottle of tequila under the seat.  The operator performed FST's satisfactorly however she was found to be 20 years old so placed under arrest.  During the inventory search, a passenger's purse was located with a plastic baggie inside containing a white powder that field tests positive for cocaine.  Passenger placed under arrest.  The sole party in the vehicle that was 21years of age was summoned to court for procurring alcohol to minors.  Vehicle towed by Ernie's Towing.  

Claire Rowat, Brook Street, Sherborn, MA, age 20.  Under 21 possession, Open Container, Speeding
Aulona Halilaj, Catalpa Circle, Worcester, MA, age 21, Drug possession Class B


(3:40 AM) Vehicle stopped for entering into oncoming lane of travel.  Operator displayed signs of impairment.  FST's indicated impairment at .134% BAC.  Operator placed under arrest for OUI.

Christina Moroney, Harrison Avenue, Peabody, MA, age 20, OUI, Marked Lanes Violation

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Remembering Howard

How do you sum up in a few minutes to a room full of people the staying influence of a bear of a man who, in life, would have dominated that room?

Simple really, you tell a sliver of a story with a beginning, middle and an end of an interaction with Howard Ziff and almost everyone in the room will relate to it.  Call it speaking to the converted.

Friends, family, former students and co-workers converged this glorious afternoon on Memorial Hall in the center of the UMass campus, a stone's throw from Bartlett Hall, home base to journalism since Howard founded the program in the early 1970s

And we heard touching stories, a song, recited a prayer--but most important--simply remembered...together.

Karen List, current Director of UMass Journalism, talks about the man who founded it

Out of Gas

 Hess Express, West Street, South Amherst

The Hess Express in South Amherst, one of the busiest convenience stores in town, is now a major construction site (but remains open for business) as underground gas storage tanks are replaced and diesel fuel will be added to the volatile mix. 

Last week the Amherst Select Board, acting as liquor commissioners, unanimously denied the business a beer/wine permit specifically because it is so strategically located and perpetually busy, fearing the wrong person at the wrong time will pick up a couple of cold ones to go.

Like the Atkins Corner Construction project a mile down the road, the mess is expected to be cleared by the time UMass and Amherst College open for business. We hope.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sizzling Saturday

The shade structure was even most popular than the water this morning at War Memorial Pool gala.  Color Guard at ease

Town officials must be doing something right as New England weather continues to provide stunningly beautiful backdrops for milestone outdoor events, today being the long awaited, long overdue grand opening ceremony for the War Memorial Pool.

The pool was scheduled to open June 23, then postponed by a week until June 30, and finally opened on July 8 under a brilliant clear sky.  The wading pool, however, still sits empty and town officials have not offered an opening date.

Stan Ziomek:  Raised private funds to build the pool 60 years ago; helped convince Amherst Town Meeting to renovate/revive it
Once again the pool is free and open to the public today until 6:00 PM.  LSSE, the overseers of outdoor pools, responded to public input and tweaked/expanded their hours for general usage.
Town Manager John Musante and SB Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe forgot their bathing suits

War Memorial Pool Open Swim

Mon.-Fri. 11 am-1 pm
Sat. & Sun. 10 am-1 pm

New Hours at War Memorial Pool:
Adult Lap Swim:
Mon.-Fri. 11 am-1 pm
Sat. & Sun. 10 am-1 pm

Open Swim:
Mon.-Fri. 11 am-5 pm
Sat. & Sun. 10 am-6 pm
Wading pool still awaiting water

Friday, July 20, 2012


Amherst Town Center 9/11/11

The Amherst Select Board, as keeper of the public ways, will hold a Public Hearing on 8/27 to decide if 29 commemorative flags can reappear in the downtown this coming 9/11 to remember 3,000 lives snuffed out in a heinous sneak attack that forever changed…everything.

And it's not you I'm concerned about ever forgetting that awful morning.

You remember exactly where you were, what you were doing when those cryptic first reports leaked out about something unusual happening in lower Manhattan.  Or that first moment you switched on the television to whatever station you were watching the night before and that stunning image of those majestic towers billowing black smoke filled the screen.

My God...how could you possibly forget?

No, it's the younger generation I'm worried about.  Those who were too young on 9/11/01 to grasp the severity of the wound inflicted on the American psyche. 

Under current town policy regulating/restricting the flags to six holidays, they can fly on 9/11 only during "milestone" anniversaries, meaning every five years.  So last year on the tenth anniversary, the first time I did not have to go before the SB with my annual request (which was denied for years on end), they did fly.

But now they will not fly again until 2016, on the 15th anniversary.  In 2020, another off year, the freshman class coming to UMass/Amherst will not have been born on 9/11/01

Those 3,000 slaughtered Americans are just as dead this year as they were last year, and still deeply deserving of our reverence: not just one-out-of-five, but every year.


President Obama and Governor Patrick have ordered all state and federal flags to half staff to remember, honor and commemorate those killed in the Aurora, Colorado senseless mass murder.

Make My Day!

Arlington, Vermont Legion Post #69 M60A3 Battle Tank  (I'm told they start it up once every year)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fitness Zombie Stirs

Fit Women, or Naive Women?

Since I first reported almost a year ago that Peter (the Duke of) Earle was--like a bad Asian flu--returning to the Happy Valley, the pending business went into hibernation.  But now, thanks to a cheap banner hung in the doorway, it seems the fledgling fitness business is actually going to open its doors.

Usually when a business says"coming soon" and then ten months later still has not opened, it's a town thing (that Amherst is so well noted for) getting in the way:  inspection services, permitting or zoning board issues.  But in this case it simply appears to be on the developers end, probably a lack of financing. 

After all, Peter Earle gave up a Gold's Gym franchise (to save money) and then went out of business as The Leading Edge Gym at that location, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding bills.   And then a couple years later went out of business as the Leading Edge Gym in Greenfield, leaving behind hundreds of thousands of dollars in outstanding debts.

Anyone sense a pattern here?

At least the Mass Attorney General did get involved over unpaid employee wages at the Amherst location and those debts were, finally, paid; but hundreds of consumers were left holding an empty gym bag and they were never reimbursed for lost memberships.

Back in the early 1980s, because of shoddy business practices like this, the state passed a consumer protection law requiring new fitness businesses to acquire an insurance bond to cover memberships in case they go out of business.

The law was never really enforced, but never repealed.

The final occupancy permit issued by Amherst to any new start up business has a boiler plate clause saying the operation will abide by all state and local laws.  The town could cite/enforce that consumer protection law before allowing Mr. Earle to open.  

Or at the very least, require him to make good on all the membership he previously defaulted on.
Lousy way to sell your used equipment

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There He Goes Again

Larry Shaffer (far left) gets thumbs down from Jackson, Michigan City Council
UPDATE:  Friday afternoon.  Since the Jackson City Council clearly violated their Open Meeting Law to settle with Mr Shaffer (at his urging of course), just as the Amherst Select Board pushed the envelope two years ago, perhaps the $64,000 settlement will be thrown out by a judge.

So it will come as little surprise to those in Amherst who were paying attention during the short reign of Town Mangler Larry Shaffer that he has once again suddenly decided to retire in the middle of his contract, taking with him--after only a year of service--a cushy $64,000 in taxpayer monies, almost exactly the same amount he absconded with from Amherst as he suddenly "took stock" of his life and decided to retire...at least until he found another job.

One of the weaknesses of the Mass Public Documents Law is exempting employee performance evaluations from exposure.  When Shaffer and the Amherst Select Board hatched his $62,000  severance package  they did so under the cloak of an "executive session" and even refused to take proper notes during that hour-and-twenty-minute closed door pow wow, summing up the entire meeting in just two sentences and redacting one of the two when responding to my request for the meeting minutes.

And now, two years later, the Jackson City Council has given Larry Shaffer a $64,000 going away present after meeting in a brief executive session. Furthermore the severance package contains a mutual "non disparage" clause to forever gag those public officials.

At the very least Larry Shaffer's two recent fiascos will be forever available via the web as a warning to the next community.  After all, a little transparency now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. (Note to readers: last line, borrowed from Thomas Jefferson, is sarcasm.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Solar Energy Deal Moves Forward

Old landfill on Belchertown Road

After more than a year since Town Meeting overwhelmingly gave him the authority to do so, Town Manager John Musante brought before the Select Board a 31 page draft of the "Solar Power Services Agreement" he negotiated for electric energy created at a solar farm situated on the old landfill.

The 25 year deal calls for Amherst to lock in electric rates at 6.75 cents per kilowatt hour from the energy produced at up to a 4.25 megawatt operation, with total savings estimated at between $1.8 million and $6.8 million over the life of the contract.  Original value estimates first floated over a year ago were as high as $1 million annually for thirty years in electricity savings and property taxes paid.

The state is proposing solar farms be exempt from paying local property taxes thus the $15 million operation that would have paid $300,000 annually to Amherst will, like some of our academic and cultural institutions, pay nothing.

Musante also disclosed that he was in negotiations with another provider of solar energy from a site located outside of Amherst (Easthampton?). This secondary source could reduce the need for such a large solar array footprint proposed for the old landfill, which could somewhat appease concerned neighbors.

Town Manager John Musante, Stephanie O'Keeffe Select Board Chair 

The Select Board did not take a formal vote on the agreement, but Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe told the town manager he had their "full support."

The Solar Farm still has a number of significant hurdles to clear before any energy starts to flow:  A lawsuit brought by immediate neighbors of the proposed solar farm is still active, the Amherst Zoning Board of Appeals must also support the project unanimously and the question of a "threatened species", the Grasshopper Sparrow, means a National Heritage Species permit must be secured.

But tonight's presentation certainly demonstrated there's light at the end of the tunnel.

Amherst Solar Power Agreement

The Yucky Underbelly

Mill Street Bridge North Amherst 

I guess now you know why Amherst closed the Mill Street Bridge.  But you do have to wonder why it took six months from the date of a state inspection that uncovered safety concerns to actually let the town know the bridge was dangerous.

Mill Street Bridge Northern side
                                                    Mill Street Bridge southwest end
Mill Street Bridge southeast end
DPW was removing this sign and replacing it with a "bridge closed" sign this morning

Sunday, July 15, 2012

You can always go...downtown.

The Amherst Crafts on the Common Fair has been attracting devotees for over thirty years now.  Even though the weather Saturday was a tad oppressive it did not stop a gaggle of folks from descending on the downtown main common.

Good for our downtown and great for the sponsor/beneficiary of the event, Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Meanwhile Miss Emily was back, stationed between the Farmers Market and the Crafts Fair, this time in a standing position--even on a such a hot humid day.   Can't image that bronze makeup being anything but lava like.
 Miss Emily strikes a pose

The downtown has another attraction, this one at the always attractive Jones Library.  A photo exhibit from the "Children's nature photography workshop" held over three consecutive days in mid April with visits to three conservation areas that the Kestrel Land Trust has been instrumental in forever preserving as open space/conservation.   My daughter was one of the participants and yes, even at age 10, she takes better photos than her dad.
 Jones Library Atrium (2 photos by Kira K)

And tomorrow night the Select Board will discuss and is expected to approve a rather large "street closure" request encompassing half the downtown for the "Celebrate Amherst Block Party" scheduled for Thursday September 13 from 6:00 PM until 10:00 PM, the first major production of the new Business Improvement District. (So it better be good!)

The event will have live bands stationed on Kendrick Park in the far north of town center and another band in front of Central Fire Station and is designed to bring together people of all ages for some good clean, controlled fun.

As opposed to the rowdy late-night weekend kind, that is no fun at all for neighborhoods all around this college town.

AFD Central Station (rt) is pretty centrally located

Friday, July 13, 2012

Can't get there...

Mill Street Bridge

The town just closed Mill Street Bridge near Puffers Pond in North Amherst for an indefinite period.  Not that it will inconvenience any businesses out that way since the bridge is pretty out of the way, and one can still walk or bike across it.

 South Amherst Village Center

Meanwhile nicer signs have appeared around South Amherst advertising Atkins Farm Country Market and how to get there. The Atkins Corner construction/destruction has reached the farthest point north, passing the main entry to Hampshire College.  Now maybe they will get a tiny taste of what Atkins has endured these past few months.  
Lower West Street (RT 116) just above main entry to Hampshire College 

Hampshire College is not in session during the summer but they do rent out their facilities for summer camps.  Perhaps that's the main reason they decided not to aid Atkins by allowing a simple, easy cut through campus from Rt 116 over to West Bay Road to come within a frisbee toss of Atkins.  Now of course you have to drive miles out of the way to get there.

Unfortunately,  when faced with those extra miles, more than a few customers go elsewhere.   And every customer counts--especially at this time of the year.
Puffers Pond dam shot from Mill Street Bridge (and not from my car)

Cherry Hill Continues to Gush Red Ink

Cherry Hill should be closed because "it's the economy stupid."

A coin toss can decide the convenient excuse town officials will trot out for our municipal golf course continuing to squander taxpayer monies: The reliable standby going on 25 years now--inclement weather, or the more recent favorite--tough economy.  Actually of late they have been using them both in combination.

FY12 ended June 30 with total revenues standing at around $239,000 well under the projected budgeted amount town meeting was told they would intake, $268,000.  And those offsetting expenditures at $232,815 or a "net profit" of $6,185.  And that is the only math town officials ever wish to present.

But those expenditures do not include an additional $49,000 in hidden costs: $31,497 for employee benefits, $14,000 in capital improvements (a lawnmower) plus $3,300 in liability/clubhouse insurance.

Now do the math that small business owners (and homeowners) have to live by:  total expenditures $281,815 against total revenues of $239,000 or an actual loss of $42,815.  Yet our senile,arthritic, toothless, "watchdog" Finance Committee promised Amherst Town Meeting the business  "would show a small profit."

Even worse they dared to say "continue" to show a small profit.  In FY11, the previous year, accounting for the hidden costs Cherry Hill lost $40,000.  What the Finance Committee should have said is the course will continue to generate the same amount of red ink, or more.

The Fiscal year that just started has an extra $12,500 in capital expenditures (turf mower) over last year and next year the ailing operation requires $135,000 in hidden capital costs!

The Solid Waste Fund took a multi million dollar hit when the landfill closed as commercial haulers took their business elsewhere.  The transfer station was created to allow folks who do not have a private hauler to still manage their trash and recycling as well as for the town to dispose of its waste.

But rising fuel prices and the bottoming out of recycling reimbursements have squeezed the operation budget of the transfer station and for the first time in history town officials are actually considering closing it down to the general public, impacting 2,000 current customers--more than ten times the number of season pass holders at the Cherry Hill Golf Course.

The transfer station, however, finished the fiscal year in the black, unlike Cherry Hill.

Trash and recycling services are a necessity, golf is not!


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Public Art: Both Sides of The River

Old Courthouse lawn Northampton city center
Amherst Cinema building town center

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

All About The Risk

At the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee meeting this afternoon tree warden Alan Snow made it perfectly clear that his main priority is not to work with Western Mass Electric Company to "blue sky" power lines so that we citizens stay warm, comfortable and plugged in should inclement weather disrupt our urban canopy this fall or winter, potentially sending us all back into the dark ages.

And it's not to maintain the aesthetic beauty or practical environmental benefits provided by our tall friends either. 

No, it's simply to try to make sure large limbs or entire trunks do not crash down on innocent bystanders, their cars or homes.  In other words, risk aversion.

Committee Chair Hope Crolius reiterated how "surprised" the entire committee was when viewing the "trimming" in South Amherst, which at the previous meeting she described as the "slaughter on South East Street."

The Tree Warden responded that the electric utility calls it "enhanced trimming" and he did veto half of what WMECO wanted to whack.  Half! 

Maybe they were going to hire the Air Force for a napalm strike.

Hope to Hopeless

Leave it to the 'Powers That Be' to take one of the most endearing symbols of hope--a yellow ribbon tied around an old tree--and turn it into a symbol of death and destruction.

E Pleasant Street Sugar Maple in the Public Way

Yes, in the arbor genocide currently taking place throughout Amherst the victims are marked with a yellow ribbon--in some cases resembling the ribbon-like tie that was so popular as a car magnet to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Corner Triangle Street and Kellogg Avenue: Red Maple in the Public Way

South East Street Friday
South East Street Saturday
South East Street Friday
South East Street Saturday
The Grim Reaper

UPDATE 7/13/12 Looks like they found some different colored ribbon:

Shays Street