Sunday, July 31, 2016

Half A Loaf?

Amherst Media also has to find a new building soon

A bit of a firefight is brewing for Monday night's Select Board meeting as Amherst Media Director Jim Lescault is not overly happy with the ten year cable contract license renewal negotiated by our Cable Advisory Committee and Temporary Town Manager Pete Hechenbleikner with mega Death Star corporation Comcast.

Amherst Media is our Public Access provider (with three channels) bringing us town government meetings and the occasional offbeat do it yourself productions.

Ten years ago the contract provided $450,000 in a one time capital equipment funding and this year Amherst Media was looking for $2.2 million.

Amherst Media Board of Directors President Steven Brewer, husband of Select Board Chair Alisa Brewer, is also very unhappy with the proposed contract.

Steven Brewer testifying at 9/25/15 Cable Ascertainment Hearing before Select Board

Comcast is offering $950,000, or less than half the request.  But, as usual, the contract does call for a 5% cut of cable TV revenues (but not telephone or Internet) which come to about $300,000 annually. 

Busy Friday

Northampton Fire Department in South Amherst Friday 8:29 AM

If you or a loved one required an ambulance Friday morning Amherst Fire Department -- your local hometown providers -- would have relied on a neighboring professional EMS department to come to your aid. 

Hence the term "mutual aid".

In fact our friends in Northampton had to respond to a call in South Amherst from a 14-year-old who awakened with severe lower extremity pain. 

APD responded immediately (although they too were stretched at the time) and AFD's fire prevention officer  jumped in his vehicle and sped to the scene to assist until the Northampton ambulance arrived.

Unfortunately it's not all that unusual:  The needs of Amherst residents being met by a neighboring FD ambulance averages 78 times per year.

 AFD & APD on scene Northampton Road 8:10 AM for our friend Ethel

Over the next 12 hours AFD Dispatch would tone out on three separate occasions for off duty personnel or the Call Force to come in for "station coverage."

And even that only provides minimum coverage at the station, not enough to fully staff an engine in case The Beast came calling.

Why do you think they are a called a "fire department?"

Engine 1 with only 1 aboard (left) arrived to this on June 4th

Last month on a "routine" Saturday afternoon the first arriving engine at a major fire at Alpine Commons apartment building had only one firefighter aboard (the driver) and he could do virtually nothing until anther engine arrived from North Station with three aboard.

We were flat out lucky on Friday morning.  One day soon, our luck will run out.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Pot Of Gold

Amherst Medical marijuana is projected to be $10 million in annual sales

The Amherst Select Board acting as our chief executives will sign a "community host agreement" on Monday night with one of four Registered Marijuana Dispensaries  that will generate at least $90,000 in guaranteed payments and possibly twice that in a 3% take of the action, estimated to be $10 million annually.

The contract calls for $75,000 in year one plus 3% of gross sales, and a guaranteed payment of $15,000 annually to a social service agency that focuses on Amherst.  The next two years of the contract ,where annual sales will have ramped up, calls for just the 3% cut of sales.

Of the four entities wishing to acquire the Golden Ticket to sell medicinal pot in Amherst only two have thus far gained a required Special Permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals: Mass Alternative Care at 55 University Drive and GTI Massachusetts NP Corporation at 169 Meadow Street.

Rafters has been a local landmark for 25 years proposed site for Happy Valley Ventures

Interestingly Happy Valley Ventures has not yet acquired that vital document.  And by most measures they are only business generating controversy since their operation will displace Rafters Sports Bar and Restaurant, a beloved institution for the past 25 years.

Obviously this gold rush is stimulated by not only the medical market for this all natural drug of choice, but the recreational legalization question coming up on the November 8th ballot.

In 2000 Amherst was the first community in the state to approve a non binding referendum question urging police to relax the enforcement of marijuana laws.

And in 2001 the Select Board unanimously approved a letter to state and federal authorities urging legalization as Amherst Town Meeting had done previously in 1976.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Another Great One Gone

Big trucks, bikes, kitties, birds and war planes.

Amherst lost a local legend this morning and a bad ass woman to boot.  But equal parts caring, compassionate and loyal.

Ethel Clemons-Hunt was a founding member of the July 4th Parade Committee and over the ten years we produced the patriotic family oriented event I can't remember Ethel ever missing a meeting.  Of course they were held at the VFW, one of her usual stomping grounds.

No matter how dark things became after Town Manager Larry Shaffer tried to pull our permit for not allowing protestors to march, Ethel remained upbeat and positive -- but always full of fight.

Over the past half dozen years I could always count on a thumbs up or encouraging comment when I posted a blog link to Facebook. 

And I especially coveted that when those posts were of a sensitive racial nature, usually involving incidents at Amherst Regional High School, her alma mater.

Growing up in Amherst as we did all those years ago blacks and Irish were pretty much in the same rickety boat.    Hard working townies like Ethel -- for better or worse -- made this town.

Now, with her absence, it's worse.

3rd Time The Charm?

Maria Geryk at Select Board meeting in January for Mega School update

For the 3rd consecutive time (plus two that were cancelled last minute) the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee will meet in executive session to discuss the employment future of Superintendent Maria Geryk.

Since it is a secret meeting with no itemized posted agenda we do not know if it's Maria Geryk who wants out of the remaining two years on her contract (at $150K per year) or if it is the School Committee that wishes to terminate the entire contract or just the extra 3rd year that requires 120 day notice to terminate. 

Although I'm told this is the first time rookie Chair Laura Kent polled members in advance (legally allowed under Open Meeting Law) to ascertain whether they are available to make this meeting. 

The Regional School Committee also formerly adopted "remote participation," so even if members are on vacation they can participate by Skype, Facetime or conference call.

The Superintendent has been under fire for the past four months for issuing a "stay away order" to single parent Aisha Hiza who was pressing school officials to deal with the bullying of her seven year old daughter (and a few other children in the Pelham Elementary School).

 Aisha Hiza at June 13 Select Board meeting

Unlike the District Court system the state allows Superintendents superpowers when it comes to issuing such orders.  But with any great power comes the responsibility to use it wisely.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Let's Get Serious

Atkins Reservoir yesterday
Pelham Reservoir (Not in use at the moment)

With our immediate area in a "severe drought" and with over one-third of all communities in the state already implimenting "mandatory" water bans it's time Amherst became a tad more serious and upgraded the two-day old voluntary ban to a mandatory one (exempting farmers of course).

 Fort River barely flowing
Fort River near Groff Park

The somewhat Rube Goldberg water system we have is already in high-capacity mode three weeks before the college aged youth come flocking back to our town, which could be the bale of hay that breaks the camel's back.

UMass is immune from town edicts (you can tell which fields are irrigated)
Groff Park Wading Pool should remain exempt (Cherry Hill Golf Course, on the other hand)

No water over Puffer's Pond dam this morning

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


I guess they can blame it on the Associated Press

Oldest mantra in journalism teaches the 5 W's with "Who" being the first, the lead, the most important.  Although "what, when, where and why" play vital supporting roles.

So I was a little amazed early this morning when I ambled back from my driveway perusing the quaint print version of the Gazette with a photo of Bill Clinton under the banner headline "Clinton wins historic nomination".

Well yes, the headline is correct.  Because indeed having a female as a major party candidate for president is certainly "historic."  And yes, having a former President as a spouse to this candidate is also newsworthy.


Couldn't the Gazette have found a file photo somewhere of Hillary Clinton? 

Or did they publish a photo of Michelle Obama eight years ago when her husband clinched his "historic" nomination?

No Scorpion Bowls For You!

Scorpion Bowls at the ready back in October on a Thursday night

While Panda East had no problem getting unanimous Select Board approval for a liquor license transfer from an absentee manager -- now replaced -- Panda did volunteer to give up serving their highly profitable Scorpion Bowls, which is kind of like McDonald's giving up serving french fries.

But like most things that offer high profit returns there was a downside: Like the temptation to serve college aged youth not yet of legal age to be consuming alcohol.

Back in January Panda East was busted for serving 17 underage individuals, many of whom did not even have a fake I.D. The Amherst Select Board voted unanimously to suspend their liquor license for two days and placed another 5 day suspension on hold for two years.

Well they did not have to wait long as they were again accused by APD of serving two underage patrons in late April, one of whom (a 17-year-old female) had to be transported by AFD to the hospital for alcohol overdose.

The Select Board discussed revoking their liquor license outright but settled on a 55-day suspension from May 4th to June 27 and required they straighten out the manager of record for a liquor license situation by that end date.

Scarlet Letter:  Posted on window last month

Attorney Kristi Bodin told the Select Board on Monday that going dry for the past two months during a tough time to do business in Amherst anyway, was actually a good thing.

Panda came to realize you don't need to rely on alcohol service to stay alive, as long as long as you have good quality food.

I'll eat to that!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

What The Hell Is Going On?

For the 2nd time this month the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee has cancelled at the last moment a meeting with an executive session to discuss "contract negotiations with nonunion personnel (Superintendent Maria Geryk)."

And yes, the first three times they posted the executive session agenda (with the 3rd one cancelled at the last minute) the postings did not disclose that it was Maria Geryk they were going to be talking about.

 RSC meeting 6/14: Only meeting all summer Maria Geryk attended

So far those secret talks in two executive sessions already held came to SIX HOURS!

Superintendent Maria Geryk, the highest paid town employee, has two years remaining on her lucrative contract, so why all the discussion now about her contract?

Yes, there's a provision in that contract for an additional year that automatically trips unless given 120 days notice, but it seems far fetched this ongoing mystery is simply about nixing a one year extension.

By Any Other Name

AFD Chief Tim Nelson and DPW Chief Guilford Mooring at Charter Commission last night

For DPW Superintendent Guilford Mooring and AFD Chief Tim Nelson a change in government would not necessarily be a game changer for how they run their operations. 

Mooring pointed out the DPW is not "sexy" to which Chief Nelson quickly responded "And we are?"

Although both quickly agreed AFD has better looking uniforms.

In response to a question from Charter Commissioner Nick Grabbe about how long the town has been talking about a new Fire Station and new DPW building Mooring responded, "We could work out of a Keebler elf oak tree for all the public cares" (as long as the roads and water supply still work).

Chief Nelson pointed out that is exactly why the town formed the DPW/Fire Station Advisory Committee: to help educated the general public of the need of these two new buildings and act as champions for both departments.

The Fire Chief went on to say:

"The challenge we face long term is the town wants us to do something and we have limited resources to do that. But at what cost? Injury rates go up, response time increases, sick leave escalates. We don’t like to say No. Town still wants all this done. We usually find a way, but it causes burnout. Government needs to figure out what it wants at what service level. We’re being asked to do a lot of things. Hard for us to keep up with day-to-day operations. We're keeping our head above water but with burnout. We need someone with the will to make a commitment (new station/increased staffing) and stick with it."
Mooring also had a comment that resonated with the Commissioners: it really doesn't matter what structure of government you have if the people who occupy the roles don't get along, then nothing positive will happen.

Both department heads stated they are "operational departments" where day to day duties and responsibilities can be very fluid, so  it's not always easy to take the time to provide needed communications to the general public.

And those communications should be a two way thing, otherwise frustration grows.

They also both agreed Town Meeting preparation takes up a lot of their time although fortunately they manage to get their annual budgets approved with little controversy, but those budgets are always a tad too lean.

Mooring closed his presentation to the Commission with the candid observation that he would not want to be in their shoes but they are "doing something important."

Chief Nelson agreed, urging them on: "Don't quit. Keep in mind you are doing the right thing and it will be very good for the town.  In the end it will all work out fine. "

Let's hope.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Hold Your Water

Community Field
Sweetser Park
In response to the recent hot weather, which has already pushed July to the highest consumption rate for that month in five years, Amherst will institute water restrictions to deal with the current drought starting tomorrow morning at 8:00 am.

The town has already fired up Well 4 which normally does not occur for another month in preparation for the return of our college aged youth which spikes demand for the month of September.

 Click to enlarge/read

Phase 1 for now is "voluntary":  watering of lawns are now on an every other day odd/even schedule according to house numbers but only before 9 am after 6 pm.

Cars also can be washed but only with those same time restrictions. And no filling of swimming pools.  Farms are exempt as are the municipal pools.

Phase 2 would be "mandatory" restrictions and could come via a state mandate.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Pelham brush fire Saturday 4:45 PM
Pelham brush fire Sunday morning 6:00 AM

 UPDATE:  Monday noon FIRE IS OUT
What a forest should look like (from 300 feet)

For the 3rd hot day in a row fire crews from a bevy of area local and state departments will go toe to toe with a stubborn brush fire in the woods of Pelham.  Crews have managed to encircle it with a fire line, so hopefully today they can close in for the kill.

Brutal today

 Pelham brush fire Sunday 3:00 PM

Pelham Brush fire Monday morning 6:00 AM

The blaze was first reported on Saturday and since then over 30 firefighters have traipsed into the Pelham woods each day for the past three days just off Old Pratt Corner Road, a rocky dirt road that had me singing John Denver's "Country Road" every time I was headed back out to paved Buffam Road.
Early Saturday morning meet up at Pelham Fire Station
Staging area off Old Pratt Farm Road 
Pelham Engine 1
Large 3,500 gallon tanker left refills Hadley 1,000 gallon tanker on right
Water is vital to fight fire and stay hydrated
 AFD treated one female firefighter for dehydration/heat exhaustion

Monday morning 6:00 AM

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Rescue Me!

Descending into a sewer to rescue Nani, age 10

After spending nearly an hour barking plaintively from deep inside a dark scary storm drain AFD and APD combined forces to free the little guy and the DPW will make sure her entry point is sealed.  With a side benefit of also keeping out the raccoons.

Now you know why AFD carries so much equipment
All's well that ends well:

Dog speak for "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Nani an hour later (fully recovered)
And yes I though about using Birdie  to scare Nani back out the way she came but it would have been a tight fit

Friday, July 22, 2016

No Fun For You!

Groff Park Wading Pool is closed due to technical difficulties

I knew something was wrong this afternoon as I approached the pool and three families were heading back towards their car with the children looking bone dry. And they looked pretty disappointed.

No wonder.

The Groff Park Wading Pool -- one of only two in town -- only opened last week and was getting plenty of usage from both parents and young children.  Plus this weekend will probably be the hottest one so far this summer.

Maybe it's time to break out the sprinklers on the town common.

UPDATE:  Pool reopened on Sunday morning.  Yea!

A Shining Light

Umass  three solar parking canopies will save $45K annually

Senate President Stan Rosenberg, a tireless workhorse for Western Mass in general and UMass/Amherst in particular, joined forces with Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, outgoing State Rep Ellen Story and Judith Judson, commissioner of the state Department of Energy Resources (DOER), to officially welcome/unveil the first parking canopy solar arrays to our area.

 Good crowd on hand for the 10:30 AM ceremony

Over the next year the University will install two more of these parking lot canopy solar arrays as well as placing arrays on six buildings, a total of 15,576 panels, which will provide 5.5 megawatts of energy and save $6.2 million over the next 20 years.

 Vira Douangmany Cage, Amilcar Shabazz and Stan Rosenberg
Ellen Story:  "This is great advertising for UMass"
Stan Rosenberg:  "Emblematic installation highlighting the green future we desperately need"
Judith Judson:"Partners like UMass help us establish our goal of clean energy"

Chancellor Subbaswamy