Friday, September 30, 2016

Catch Me If You Can

Fox resting behind Fisher House in North Amherst

The sickly North Amherst fox made yet another appearance this afternoon but managed to elude APD and Animal Welfare officer Carol Hepburn yet again.

 Come out, come out wherever you are

The cute critter has a bad leg and appears to be blind but seemed to move pretty quickly when approached and was last seen high-tailing it across Pine Street heading north. 

APD has strict controls over when they can fire a weapon and although it's been 50 years or more since exchanging gunfire with a human, mercy killing of a suffering animal is not all that uncommon.  

When they can catch it. 

Free Speech But Not For Thee

Perhaps Amherst Region High School Principal Mark Jackson needs to take a refresher Civics course specifically relating to the most bedrock of sacred American values, the First Amendment.

And perhaps a basic psychology class as well because the best way to get teenagers to do something you don't want them to do is to directly forbid them to do it.

In his letter to the community Jackson clearly states in writing "These two chants are prohibited": "warm up the bus" and "if you’re winning, clap your hands."  So long as the kids are not chanting "fire" in a movie theater, that's a clear violation of the First Amendment.

What is a worse example to set:  kids being kids at a school sponsored sports event or a school system trampling their First Amendment rights?

 Maybe somebody should ask the ACLU. 

Vote Early, Not Often

Amherst will have early voting for the November 8th election

Now you have even less of an excuse to miss doing your civic duty November 8th as the Amherst Board of Registrars have approved "early voting" in Town Hall  for two weeks prior to the election October 24 through November 4th Mon-Fri (8 AM until 5 PM) and all day Saturday, October 29 (9 AM until 3 PM) at North Fire Station and Munson Memorial Library.

The Secretary of State estimates as many as 25% of registered voters will take advantage of this convenient option, so in Amherst that would be around 5,000 voters.

 The Amherst Board of Registrars

Since this is not a state mandate the town will have to pick up the added costs.  The voting station in Town Hall will be staffed by three extra personnel for the two weeks and each polling station on Saturday, October 29 will also have an additional three for a total cost of around $1,000.

Town Clerk Sandra Burgess is expecting a high turnout due to the normal enthusiasm always exhibited for a Presidential election combined with the added attraction of a ballot question legalizing recreational marijuana and of course the $33 million Debt Exclusion Override for the new Mega School.
 Click to enlarge/read
 State suggested press release

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The $67,200,000 Question

League of Women Voters School Building Forum last night

Not sure too many minds were changed by the League of Women Voters forum on the new Mega School last night, which attracted parents, School Committee, Select Board and Town Meeting members in almost equal measures.

Although little to no college aged youth.  

Any yes surely the entire audience of about 100 will be voting on the ballot question on November 8th with probably the highest turnout in Amherst election history.

But continued status quo is not a good thing for proponents of the shiny new co-located school as recent school related chaotic events has eroded confidence in their overall administration.

Proponents of the $67 million project cited equity, health & safety, streamline efficiencies and of course the state's contribution to a little over half the project cost, while opponents zeroed in on the the high overall cost of the building and even higher cost of "grade reconfiguration" which  breaks up the neighborhood school concept in favor of a two grades 2-6 schools in one.

The Finance Committee presented facts that will make the average homeowner break into a cold sweat especially considering the other three building projects waiting in line behind the Schools.

The ballot question will not even have a number attached to it but the School Building Committee announced the state had approved the project at $67.2 million with the town share of $33.7 million.

 Click to enlarge read

The Finance Committee also pointed out that should the ballot question fail or Town Meeting turns down the authorization, the School Building Committee can try again with the same concept as happened in 1996 with the $22 million High School expansion that passed the second time around.

Or they can downsize the project and/or combine it with a renovation of one school and much smaller new school and resubmit a statement of interest to the MSBA.  The state agency does also fund two projects in one town (Granby for instance) as long as one is completed before applying for the second.

Necessity is the mother of invention.  Voting No on November 8 will certainly stimulate a little inventiveness from town officials and send a message about the other major projects lining up in the queue. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Clearly A Conflict

Amherst Select Board August 15

State Ethics Commission
Enforcement Division
One Ashburton Place, Room 619
Boston, MA 02108-1501

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to file a formal complaint concerning a violation of state ethics law — especially as it relates to the “appearance of a conflict of interest” — by Amherst Select Board member  Doug Slaughter at the Select Board September 26 regular Monday night meeting.

Five hours into said meeting the Select Board briefly discussed taking a position on a $65 million Debt Exclusion Override question for a new elementary school that appears on the November 8th ballot.  

Member Connie Kruger made a motion to support passage of the Question, it was seconded by Doug Slaughter, and then all five voted in favor. 

Although at that time of night (11:30 PM) no member of the general public was still at the meeting it is broadcast by Amherst Media thus available for your perusal.  

Since Mr. Slaughter is a full time Amherst School employee he should have abstained from the vote, or at the very least made a public announcement of his school affiliation to avoid the "appearance of a conflict of interest."


Larry J. Kelley
596 South Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01002


Party House of the Weekend

Last weekend was a throwback to the bad old days of three or four years ago when the classic party house -- single family student rentals owned by absentee landlords -- reared their noisy heads.


 Click to enlarge/read

The town has been investigating 26 Allen Street for many, many months now as a suspected frat house and incidents like this only add to the evidence.

And 80 West Street was only purchased by Jamie Cherewatti two years ago and this is the second time it has made Party House of the Weekend (with some of the same perps).

 Picard (obviously not the Captain)

In Eastern Hampshire District Court on Monday the Commonwealth originally was going to place each perp on "supervised probation" for four months with a $50/month supervision cost (paid to the Court) but the Probation officer told Judge Estes its never been done that way before.


So they switched back to the usual way of handling these by converting the criminal charge to civil with payment of a $300 fine.  They are still on (unsupervised) probation for four months.


After all eight were dealt with the Judge even mentioned that it generated over $2,000 for the town.  I felt like interjecting, "And the taxpayers of Amherst thank you."

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Keeping The DPW In Check

Work has been ongoing near this intersection since late Spring

Everybody's favorite aging activist Vince O'Connor filed two citizens petition articles for the upcoming Fall Town Meeting, both of them directed at disrupting public works projects:  Blocking a new home for the DPW and the roundabout at Triangle/East Pleasant Street, a main gateway to our #1 employer UMass/AMHERST.

 Click to enlarge/read.  Each petition required certified 100 signatures 

And last night Mr. O'Connor was at the Select Board meeting to speak against their letter of support for the 130 unit Beacon Communities mixed-use affordable housing project in North Amherst, even though he admitted he had not yet read the letter because he doesn't use the internet. 

Yes if you are going to stand in the way of progress there's nothing better than using a quill pen to write by the light of a whale oil lamp and frequenting on foot ye old gathering places to acquire signatures to bring petitions before our archaic branch of government, Town Meeting.  

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

North End Revitalization Continues

236 N Pleasant and 12 Hallock (behind) will make way for new 4 story office building
1st new office building in Amherst in over a generation

The Planning Board voted unanimously last night (6-0) to grant Site Plan Review and Special Permits relating to height, number of floors, and set backs for a new office building at 236 North Pleasant Street proposed by two local developers Barry Roberts and Curt Shumway.

Roberts owns the building fronting North Pleasant Street and Shumway owns the one behind on Hallock Street that will be demolished for parking.  The Historic Commission enacted a one year demolition delay on the two buildings but that expires in January.

Amazingly not a single abutter appeared at the hearing to complain about noise, traffic, or the possibility that students from the Isenberg School of Management could rent some of the space.

The Carriage Shops directly across the street are slated to be demolished for One East Pleasant Street, which will be a five story mixed-use building.

 Carriage Shops across the street will be replaced by 5-story mixed use building

Thus this new office building across the street will not nearly be out of scale for the neighborhood.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And Then There Were None

Atkins Reservoir 9/21

Atkins Reservoir went off line this morning and even after the rains over the past few days was still down 9' 4"  with only 70 million gallons of water remaining from a 200 million peak.

And if not for that recent rain Atkins would most likely have been down more than ten feet, which would have broken the record set back in 1982.

All three reservoirs are now shut down, although it will still take a few days to put Atkins safely to bed so if something should go wrong immediately with one of our wells it could be fired back up fairly quickly.

Three days from now and that will not be the case.

Conserve water people.

Water Decisions

UMass consumes about 30% of Amherst water

Yes both the University of Massachusetts, our flagship institute that makes us a college town, and Amherst College, that makes us a classier college town, are watering their athletic fields, theoretically violating the town water ban.

Click to enlarge/read
Both are invoking the "health and safety" clause to protect their athletes who play on the parched fields.  Fair enough.

 Amherst College consumes about 4% of Amherst water

Otherwise they are both taking the ban very seriously and realize if the water system fails, it could be game over.