From Other Sources: News For And About Amherst.  This Week – A Local News Roundup.  Also PFAS and Climate Justice.


Local newspapers, Jones Library, Amherst. Photo: Art Keene

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 from the last few weeks that we were unable to cover in The Indy as well as some interesting environmental news.

Opinion: Real Estate Gold Rush In Amherst by Alex Kent (2/17/23). The phone rang and a Walpole number came up. I shouldn’t answer numbers I don’t recognize — let it go to voicemail. But out of idle curiosity, I picked up the call and it was another wholly unsolicited inquiry from a company wanting to buy my house in downtown Amherst. Hardly the first anonymous would-be buyer. I’ve also had contact from local rental property owners in town. My house is a hot property. Truth be told, I’m not really interested in selling. I’ve lived downtown for 22 years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. I like living in Amherst, I enjoy the proximity to the Amherst Cinema, to the coffee shops where I often do my work, to the Jones Library, and to neighbors I know and who know me. I sure wish there was a grocery store in town, but that’s another story. I told the would-be buyer to take me off of his company’s list and hung up. I fully expect more such calls. Why is a company interested in buying my house? That’s easy: My house is near UMass, it has five full bedrooms (and a smaller spare room, making six), and 2½ bathrooms. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Amherst Residents Pitch Capital Projects To JCPC With Safety In Mind by Scott Merzbach (2/17/23). Speed humps on North Amherst streets, a new ValleyBike Share station in the Mill District and an e-bike station for a downtown parking lot are among resident requests being made to the town’s capital spending program. On Thursday, the Joint Capital Planning Committee began examining applications filed by residents to be included in the fiscal 2024 capital improvement program, including several that are part of a comprehensive package from the District One Neighborhood Association that would improve transportation, both by encouraging walking and bicycling and reducing speeds of vehicles, in North Amherst.Several of the suggestions center on Harris and Fisher streets, two short streets that connect Pine and North Pleasant streets, and which are frequently used as shortcuts by motorists to avoid the main signalized intersection. Jessica Mix Barrington, who lives at the corner of Pine and Harris streets, is proposing $30,000 to install a new crosswalk on Pine Street. “It’s not very safe for people to cross the street here,” Mix Barrington said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Could Junior High, High School Merge? High Capital Costs At Aging Regional Schools Prompt Discussion by Scott Merzbach (2/16/23).  Anticipated soaring costs related to the capital needs of the middle and high schools, including a project to replace the middle school roof that has been put on pause, is prompting local officials to ask if a single campus for regional students might best serve the four-town Amherst-Pelham Regional School District. “One of the things I would suggest under capital discussion is whether it is time to look at something completely different, and that would be to renovate the high school with an addition and consolidate to one building,” John Trickey, a member of the Pelham Finance Committee, said at Saturday’s four-town meeting. Amherst Town Council President Lynn Griesemer, too, said it may be time to revisit a 2019 study that explored the concept of enlarging the high school to accommodate the seventh and eighth grade students from Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett currently educated at the middle school. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Opinion: Different Truths And Democracy In Amherst by Andrea Battle and Jeff Gold (2/16/23). Key components of a healthy democracy require a commitment to equality of basic rights and justice, the rule of law, and free and fair elections for all citizens. But for these principles to be realized, a strong democracy also demands trust built on transparency, good communication, and access to information. We believe a good working definition of democracy involves collaborative work and civic engagement to address commonly defined problems. We applaud Amherst’s stated commitment to ending structural racism and the formation of the Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS) program and the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). These are vital steps in the right direction. But the town of Amherst appears recently compromised by a lack of transparency and less than optimal communication. No matter the intentions, the off-the-record meeting between the police and members of the Town Council sent a message of exclusion and lack of transparency, and further deepened mistrust and tensions in the town. (Amherst Bulletin)

Opinion: Massachusetts Can Be The Next State To Commit to 100% Clean Energy by Johanna Neumann (2/15/23). Here’s why Massachusetts should commit to powering our state with 100% clean and renewable energy. Our nation is continuing a remarkable transition to clean, renewable energy. Last year, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources provided nearly three-quarters of new electrical generating capacity. Meanwhile, clean energy tax credits, a key part of the Biden administration and Congress’ affordable clean energy plan, went into effect last month. These tax credits have been widely touted as a game-changer in growing clean energy because they lower the consumer cost of many clean energy technologies. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Psst, Check Out This Hidden Amherst Bar: The Archives Is Quietly Making A Name For Itself by Scott Merzbach (2/15/23). In a small vestibule in the basement of 30 Boltwood Walk, at the end of an awning-covered ramp leading to Brick & Mortar Realty’s office, music can be heard coming from what appears to be a wall of filing cabinets. For those who know how to make their way through a concealed door in the wall, what awaits is a place where they can order mixed drinks and original cocktails and a space featuring brick-lined walls and arched openings, with eclectic decor such as artwork featuring scientific drawings and paintings through the ages. Those not familiar with The Archives, though, first have to get there. They may first try the locked door to the real estate office, before finding a handle in the filing cabinets to make their way in. This process of discovery has been part of the appeal of what some are calling a speakeasy, an almost secret drinking establishment, that opened late last summer. “We like to think of it as a place you bring your friends and have it be somewhat of a surprise for them,” says Greg Stutsman, who created The Archives concept with his brother Jeff Stutsman. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Amherst Regional Schools’ Budget Limit Could Cut 15 Positions by Scott Merzbach (2/15/23. More than $1 million in spending cuts, including approximately 15 staff layoffs, may be needed to bring the regional schools’ budget to a level that the towns of Amherst, Pelham. Shutesbury and Leverett are able to pay. At a four-towns meeting Saturday, Douglas Slaughter, the school finance director, said 15.44 full-time equivalent staff, including administrators, teachers and paraprofessionals, would need be cut to get spending down to the 2.5% increase in Amherst’s assessment for the regional schools mandated by the Town Council.The meeting brought together elected and appointed officials from the Amherst Town Council and town select boards and finance committees. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Markey Moves To Protect Community TV by Scott Merzbach (2/12/23). Continued cable television cord-cutting by consumers is creating financial challenges for community access television, a problem compounded by Federal Communications Commission rules that appear to favor cable companies over the stations that broadcast public meetings, municipal events and assorted programs. To confront this challenge, Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey, as a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, recently reintroduced the “Protecting Community Television Act” with committee colleague Sen. Tammy Baldwin. D-Wisconsin, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-California, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The legislation takes aim at the rules, created in 2019 under President Donald Trump, giving cable companies the ability to put a price tag on in-kind contributions they provide to communities, including for what are known as public, educational and government, or PEG channels. This means that cable companies can then subtract the ascribed value of those in-kind contributions from the franchising fees they pay to operate. Such legislation, says Amherst Media Executive Director Jim Lescault, is a critical step toward protecting the viability of media centers that may be struggling with their funding. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

League Of Women Voters Amherst Celebrates 84th Birthday by Roddy Liddy (2/7/23). The League of Women Voters (LWV) Amherst will be celebrating its 84th birthday on Feb. 11, starting at 3:30 p.m. The celebration will be a virtual ceremony hosted on Zoom open to anyone, with a guest appearance by State Rep. Mindy Domb. Festivities will include humorous quizzes, speeches from LWV members and Domb, who will also be answering questions from attendees afterward. This ceremony is the modern iteration of a practice that stretches back “at least 15 years” according to LWV Steering Committee Publicity Specialist Trish Farrington. What started off as an in-person luncheon for members and intersted friends alike to celebrate the league’s birthdays hosted at various local restaurants has turned into a virtual gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic. “It was one of our most festive occasions through the year because people were together in a nice spot… at every one of them there was a speaker, someone who had been invited, who was in local government, a politician, people in the know of what was going on in the state but somebody local… The person would give a short talk and then be open for questions. We really felt like we were getting in on the ground floor of what was happening in the legislature,” Farrington said. (Amherst Reminder)


Water Utilities Brace For Imminent EPA Proproals On PFAS by Bobby Magill (2/17/23). Drinking water systems are preparing for the possibility that the EPA will try to codify its 2022 health advisories suggesting no amount of PFAS substances are safe, water attorneys say. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue its proposed PFAS drinking water standards by March 3, according to the EPA’s latest regulatory agenda. That date is exactly two years after the agency published its 2021 decision to regulate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA, which did not respond to a request for comment, said in a news release this week that the draft of the proposed rule is undergoing interagency review, and the proposal will be released in the “coming weeks.” The agency said it expects to finalize the PFAS drinking water limits by the end of the year. “Whatever they come up with will have a huge impact on the next several years for drinking water systems planning their budgeting,” and litigation will likely follow, said Tom Lee, a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP in San Francisco.The EPA in 2022 issued interim health advisories that said almost no levels of two PFAS substances in drinking water are safe. The question now is whether the agency’s proposed limits for PFAS in drinking water will reflect the non-binding advisory. (Bloomberg Law)

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Force Mass. Towns To Face ‘True Cost Of Waterby Barbara Moran (2/14/23). Littleton’s new water treatment plant is not, shall we say, a head-turning architectural marvel. It’s a large, unadorned brick building resembling a fieldhouse. Or perhaps an overgrown shed. But when Nick Lawler looks at it, he beams. “A thing of beauty!” Lawler, the general manager of the Littleton Electric Light and Water Departments, said. “It’s not the outside that matters — it’s what’s inside.” What’s inside is a $16 million, state-of-the-art plant designed to treat Littleton’s drinking water for the toxic chemicals known as “PFAS.” The so-called “forever chemicals” have contaminated drinking water supplies across Massachusetts, and there’s no easy or cheap way to remove them. For a town with only 10,000 residents, $16 million was a big price tag: the utility’s annual water budget is usually around $4 million. And with more regulations expected soon, the price of clean drinking water in the state is about to get a lot higher. (WBUR)

Department Of Defense To Fund Study Of Westfield Airport Ground Water Contamination by Sarah Robertson (1/26/23). A decade after groundwater contaminated with PFAS was first detected in the public water supply near the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, the Air National Guard has announced it will begin a “remedial investigation” of the problem. Soil and water samples taken in the vicinity of the airport will help to determine the extent of the contamination, and the scope of the US Department of Defense (DoD)’s responsibility to remediate it. “There’s a possibility there are other sources,” Bill Myer, an environmental restoration program manager for the Air National Guard, told The Shoestring. “Everyone thinks it’s all the Air National Guard for PFAS, but there’s other sources of PFAS that are out there.” At a January 12 virtual meeting of local, state and federal officials working on the PFAS problem in Westfield, Myer announced that the Westfield base had been approved for a yet-to-be-disclosed amount of federal money to conduct the remedial investigation. (The Shoestring)


New Agenda On Climate Change In Ulster, New York by Peter Katz (2/12/23). Ulster County Executive Jen Metzger has signed an Executive Order with more than a dozen directives to help deal with climate change. The Executive Order directs that all county government buildings be assessed to see whether on-site solar and electricity storage can be added with a goal of making sure that  all electricity used in the buildings comes from renewable sources by 2030. Another directive sets a goal of achieving reductions of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions of 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050. The Executive Order sets a goal of diverting 100% of organic waste from landfills and incinerators by 2030. It also calls for studying the Ulster County Area Transit service with the goal of expanding routes and scheduling and continuing to fully electrify the fleet. Among the other directives is one that requires county departments to develop plans to help residents and small businesses take advantage of state and federal assistance and incentives in becoming more energy efficient and adopting other environmentally-sound initiatives. (Westfield and Fairfield County Business Journals)

It’s Inequality That Kills. Naomi Klein On The Future Of Climate Justice by Madeleine de Trenqualye (2/13/23). I always think about climate justice as multitasking. We live in a time of multiple overlapping crises: we have a health emergency; we have a housing emergency; we have an inequality emergency; we have a racial injustice emergency; and we have a climate emergency, so we’re not going to get anywhere if we try to address them one at a time. We need responses that are truly intersectional. So how about as we decarbonise and create a less polluted world, we also build a much fairer society on multiple fronts? Many environmentalists hear that and think: “Well, that sounds a lot harder than just implementing a carbon tax or switching to green energy.” And the argument we make in the climate justice movement is that what we’re trying to do is to build a power base that is invested in climate action. Because if you’re only talking about carbon, then anybody who has a more daily emergency – whether it’s police violence, gender violence or housing precarity – is going to think: “That’s a rich person problem. I’m focused on the daily emergency of staying alive.” But if you can connect the issues and show how climate action can create better jobs and redress gaping inequalities, and lower stress levels, then you start getting people’s attention and you build a broader constituency that is invested in getting climate policies passed. (The Guardian)

Greta Thunberg’s New Book Fumes At Capitalism, Urges World To Keep Climate Justice Out Front by Barbara J. King (2/9/23). Climate activist Greta Thunberg who, at age 15, led school strikes every Friday in her home country of Sweden — a practice that caught on globally — has now, at 20, managed to bring together more than 100 scientists, environmental activists, journalists and writers to lay out exactly how and why it’s clear that the climate crisis is happening. Impressively, in The Climate Book, Thunberg and team — which includes well-known names like Margaret Atwood, George Monbiot, Bill McKibben and Robin Wall Kimmerer — explain and offer action items in 84 compelling, bite-size chapters. Most critically, they — and Thunberg herself in numerous brief essays of her own — explain what steps need to be taken without delay if the world is to have a reasonable chance of limiting global temperature rise as stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement. The document aims to keep the temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius (and better yet below 1.5 degrees Celsius). The essays also explain why climate justice must be at the center of these efforts. (NPR)

Minnesota Has Passed A Landmark Clean Energy Law.  Which States Will Be Next? by Dan Gearino (2/9/23). With remarkable speed, Minnesota lawmakers have passed a bill requiring 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040.The legislation, signed by Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, means Minnesota joins a group of 10 states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington) plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, in having laws that require a transition to 100 percent carbon-free or renewable electricity. (Inside Climate News)

Americans Spend Over 15% Of Their Budgets On Transportation.  100 Cities Around The World Are Trying To Make It Free by Abigail Johnson Hess (3/20/20). Americans are spending more time — and money — commuting than ever before. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American spends 25.9 minutes a day traveling to work one way — that adds up to just over four hours every week spent in transit for work. They’re spending around 15.9% of their typical budgets on transportation costs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and married couples with children spend closer to 17.1%. And as more Americans migrate to larger cities, public transportation use is up. Since 1997, public transportation ridership has increased by 21%. These are just some of the reasons why advocates across the country are starting to call for free public transportation. The New York Times estimates that 100 cities around the world offer free public transit, with many of them in Europe. But recently, cities across the United States have begun to consider it as well. (CNBC)

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