From Other Sources: News For And About Amherst. This Week: A Local News Roundup
This feature offers links to selected articles that might be of interest to Amherst readers. If you have read something that is germane to what I’ve been posting in this feature, please share the link in the comments section below.
Here are some stories that we were unable to cover in The Indy.
Hearing Set To Dole Out $1.65M Of CDBG Money by Scott Merzbach (1/27/23). New sidewalks along Belchertown Road and infrastructure improvements near the East Street common are a focus for the town’s capital spending requests for this year’s Community Development Block Grant. The $1.66 million in capital projects, along with $30,000 for Valley Community Development’s Microenterprise assistance program for low- and moderate-income resident business owners, are joined by $621,340 in requests from eight social service agencies. But with $2.31 million in proposals, the CDBG Advisory Committee will have to figure out how to appropriate $1.65 million in CDBG funding from the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. The state agency has designated Amherst a mini-entitlement community that is eligible to apply for the money that benefits low-and moderate-income individuals. The recommendations, which also have to comply with a $1.07 million cap for capital projects and a $330,000 cap for social services, will be the subject of a remote public hearing by the committee Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Utility Regulators Say Skyrocketing Energy Costs Out Of Their Hands by Scott Merzbach (1/27/23). Mandated reductions to natural gas supply rates by gas distribution companies going into effect Feb. 1, an investigation into the procurement and pricing of basic service electricity supply, and promoting programs to assist customers in paying their utility bills are among steps being taken by the state’s Department of Public Utilities to cut energy costs and assist consumers, according to a letter sent to legislators this week. “The Department and the Healey-Driscoll Administration share your concern about the impacts that energy supply costs are having on the ability of Massachusetts residents and businesses to afford their utility bills,” DPU Chairman Matthew H. Nelson wrote in the correspondence that comes in response to an appeal from more than 90 legislators seeking to compel public utilities to cut their winter energy rates.The rationale from the legislators is that electricity costs should come down as the summer’s high oil prices have declined substantially, and the DPU should therefore reexamine the electricity rates that were approved for Eversource, National Grid and Unitil. National Grid’s rates were estimated to increase by 64% and Eversources’s to go up by 43%. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Fieldstone Housing Project Taking Shape At UMass by Scott Merzbach (1/26/23). Close to the middle of the University of Massachusetts campus, a large building to feature 623 beds for undergraduate students continues to take shape for the fall semester. The development of Fieldstone, as it is being called, marks the first public-private partnership for a building for the university. It is part of a $200 million project being developed by Axium Infrastructure of New York City and Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions of Philadelphia that also includes a building offering 200 beds for graduate students that will replace Lincoln Apartments. The overall project will supplement the 13,500 beds that UMass already has on campus, which increased to 14,300 beds last fall due to an increase in demand from undergraduates to live in dorms coming out of the pandemic. UMass has 22,700 undergraduates. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Labor Board To Hold Hearing Over Amherst Teachers’ Union Allegations Of School Board Retaliation Against 2 Members by Scott Merzbach (1/23/23). Complaints brought by the teachers union alleging that the Amherst School Committee unlawfully retaliated against two school employees for protected union activity will be subject to a hearing after a state Department of Labor Relations investigation found a probable cause that violations occurred.“ We are not surprised that state authorities decided to move forward after its investigation because this is a clear unlawful action,” Lamikco Magee, president of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association, said in a statement issued Friday. The complaint filed with the Labor Relations Board in 2021 contended there was retaliation against two employees at Fort River School after they raised concerns about the effectiveness of COVID-19 protocols between August and October 2021, and clashed with a former principal of the school. One employee was subject to a transfer to another school building before resigning, while the other was placed on leave. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Paulo Freire Charter School To Close This Summer by Dusty Christiansen (1/25/23). The state’s education board voted Tuesday to accept the surrender of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School’s charter, meaning that the school will close at the end of this semester. The decision comes after the charter school’s board of trustees voted on Jan. 17 to give up the charter and close the school. That was a reversal of an earlier decision; the board had initially voted on Jan. 5 to refuse to hand over the charter to the state. However, the state’s education department ruled that decision ineligible because the school’s executive director had improperly voted. When the school voted again on Jan. 17, trustees agreed to surrender the charter — a decision that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, accepted Tuesday.“ The school has been unable to attract enrollment sufficient to maintain financial viability and has faced other challenges,” state Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Jeffrey Riley said at the education board meeting Tuesday. (The Shoestring)
Northampton City Council Imposes Cap On Pot Shops by Dusty Christiansen (1/20/23). The Northampton City Council has voted to cap the number of retail cannabis dispensaries in the city at 12. The decision came after hours of debate over the proposed limit on pot shops in the city, which is currently home to 11 — down from 12 after The Source, a dispensary on Pleasant Street, closed in December. The number of cannabis retailers in Northampton, where the state’s first dispensary opened in 2018, is similar to the amount operating in the much larger cities of Boston and Worcester. Ultimately, councilors voted 6-3 to impose the 12-shop cap, which includes exemptions for those who qualify as “social equity” license applicants under state law, delivery businesses and retailers who have already signed a host-community agreement with City Hall. (The Shoestring)