Board Members Nancy Gilbert (Chair), Maureen Millea, Timothy Randhir, Lauren Mills, Steve George
Staff: Jennifer Brown, Health Director, Edmund Smith, Health Inspector
The meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.
- Rescinded motion supporting a pilot program for curbside composting
- Heard a report on COVID in Amherst, noting a significant uptick in new cases
- Considered revisions to the town’s recombinant DNA regulations
- Approved a new well at 389 Bay Road
- Flu is here
- Faculty initiative
- Discussed concerns about services available to the homeless with the changing weather
- Discussed the need for a liaison from the new town council, noting that the current designated liaison, Geroge Ryan had not been active during most of the pandemic.
Pilot Program To Promote Curbside Composting Delayed
The board voted unanimously to rescind its motion from November 18 that would have created a working group to explore modifying the town’s hauler regulations so that haulers would have to provide residential curbside compost pickup. The working group was charged with establishing the elements of a pilot program (to be provided directly by the town or through a town contract with one or more haulers) that would include curbside trash, recycling, and compostable materials pick-up in basic service, a pay-as-you-throw fee structure, and local compostable materials processing and reuse, and to provide a final report to the board by June 2022. Gilbert proposed rescinding the motion without offering much explanation for the sudden reversal other than to say that the board did not currently have the capacity to do the proposed work.
Prior to the vote, each member of the board expressed their support for the idea of revising hauler regulations and promoting curbside composting and zero waste practices. Gilbert noted that the last time the board considered hauler regulations, there was a substantial effort on the part of the town to support that work and that right now, “no one from the town seems to be willing to step up and take this on”. She said that the board wants to support the work but “needs someone to take on the work and bring it back to the board in necessary form.” Health Director Jennifer Brown noted that the Board of Health has identified hauler reform as important but noted that the board and the health department are completely occupied with COVID right now. Brown said she spoke with the town sustainability coordinator, Stephanie Ciccarello, who agreed that this is an important issue that needs a home and someone to work on it and bring it forward. Tim Randhir commented on the importance of the proposal, noting that every master plan should have a solid waste component. Brown said that she would speak to Town Manager Paul Bockelman to see if someone on staff could take this on and move it forward. Gilbert said that the board would revisit the issue at their January meeting to discuss how they might support this initiative within its limited capacities.
Recombinant DNA Regulation Revisions Update
Maureen Millea and Steve George offered a set of possible revisions to the town’s recombinant DNA regulations, noting that the situation has changed considerably since they were first written and that not much of the kind of work covered is done locally,, although it is useful to have updated guidelines should the need ever arise. Millea asked whether the board or the town actually have the capacity to enforce the current DNA regulations. Geroge noted that the regulations are very technical and that the board couldn’t assign enforcement to the town’s health inspectors. So who would do it? he asked. Gilbert said it’s useful for the town to know where the relevant labs are, and although she doubted that the town has the capacity to monitor them, there ought to be some kind of reporting in place “in case something happens.” And if a spinoff lab comes off the campus and into the community, what kind of reporting do we need to require? She suggested that the board keep this as simple as possible — know where the relevant labs are and perhaps require an occasional written report. Brown suggested that this is also a concern of the fire department and that maybe the board and fire department could collaborate to keep an eye on this within their capacities. George noted that the labs have national reporting requirements for any kind of release of biological materials into the environment, and the town should be party to that reporting. Randhir reminded the group that these labs are required to have management plans and emergency plans, so a lot is in place, mandated by the CDC and NIH. He suggested that the town rely on their guidance, and that they would notify the Board of Health of any emergency actions that are taken.
Application To Install A Well At 389 Bay Road
An application to install a well at a flag lot at 389 Bay Road was approved unanimously.
Brown reported that she has reviewed studies of food insecurity in town from 2013 and 2014, and plans to look into what has happened since then.
She announced that the health department has recorded eight cases of flu since September and that with folks spending more time indoors, we can expect to see case numbers to increase.
Brown reported that COVID is on the rise in Amherst although overall the town continues to do a good job in containing the spread.
In the last week, 185 new cases were recorded in town including 62 new cases since Wednesday (12/8). Forty-four of those new cases were among people who were not vaccinated, although it is not clear whether those individuals were actually not vaccinated or whether the data on some of them is incomplete. Most new cases are breakthrough cases, that is, cases among people who have been vaccinated. (Note: it was not stated whether vaccinated refers to people who have received two, or three, doses of vaccine). The greatest increase in new cases in Massachusetts last week was in the age group 5 to 9 years. Statewide, Hispanics are the most impacted demographic group. Brown said we might expect a rise in case numbers as people get tested prior to traveling for the holidays. She reported that 93% of Amherst residents have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine. She offered thanks to UMass for supporting testing in town and reported that the UMass satellite testing at the Bangs Center has been doing about 600 tests a week. On January 11, the town will have been running vaccine clinics for a year.,
Brown reported that for the time being, the town’s mask order will stay in place and that she has requested that town government meetings continue over Zoom at least into January.
Liaison To Town Council
The board discussed the need for a liaison from the new town council, noting the current designated liaison, Councilor Geroge Ryan (District 3), who was not re-elected, had not been active during most of the pandemic. Members underscored the importance of keeping the council up-to-date on what’s happening with the board, especially during pandemic. Brown agreed to follow up with the council.
Homeless People And Changing Weather
Randhir asked about the status of resources to serve the homeless, given the changing weather.Brown reported that she is in regular contact with the director of Craig’s Doors. Randhir wanted to know if there is anything the board can do to assist agencies and organizations serving the homeless. Brown said she will reach out to organizations supporting the homeless to see what assistance they might need, and noted that a warming center is planned for the former VFW building.
The board will meet next on January 13.