From Other Sources. News For And About Amherst: Catching Up On Local News, The Crisis In Higher Education, And World On Fire


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Here are some local stories from the last few weeks that we were unable to cover in the Indy as well a mix of interesting news and commentary that is worth checking out.

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Amherst News
Private Party Eyed To Settle Wetland Dispute Between UMass, Amherstby Scott Merzbach (8/28/23).  A significantly changed wetland shown on plans for an expanded gravel parking lot on Olympia Drive could trigger the need for a private review of the University of Massachusetts project. “The configuration of the wetland appears to have changed dramatically and the size of the delineation seems to have changed,” Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacque told the Conservation Commission at its Aug. 23 meeting, where it continued a review of the proposed expansion of Lot 13. For Jacque, the worry is that a wetland shown on the map submitted for the parking lot project is smaller and farther away from the project area in 2023 than it was in 2020, even though 2023 has been a far wetter year. “I do think that it would be valuable for the commission to have a third party look at this site to determine whether the third party would agree with the extent of the wetland,” Jacque said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Amherst’s CRESS Director Placed On Paid Leave Pending Investigation by Scott Merzbach (8/18/23). Earl Miller, Amherst’s director of the unarmed police alternative Community Responders for Equity, Safety and Service department, is on paid administrative leave until the completion of an independent investigation, according to town officials. An email from Brianna Sunryd, who handles communications on behalf of Town Manager Paul Bockelman, confirmed that Miller’s leave is pending an internal investigation into the operation of the CRESS program. “This leave will continue until the completion of the investigation, which is being done by an independent outside investigator,” Sunryd wrote. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

News From Adjacent Communities
Greenfield’s Sustainability Chief Will Lead Northampton’s New Climate Action Department
by Alexander MacDougall (9/15/23).  A UMass Amherst graduate who holds a master’s degree in sustainable development and has served as Greenfield’s energy and sustainability director since 2014 has been chosen to run Northampton’s new Climate Action & Project Administration (CAPA) department. Carole Collins will assume leadership of the new department, which was created earlier in the year by Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra to help ensure future city projects meet climate and sustainability goals to achieve carbon neutrality. Under Collins’ leadership, Greenfield was recognized in 2021 by the state Department of Energy Resources for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70% since 2008 and a 25% reduction in municipal-wide energy consumption since 2016. Other accomplishments include the transformation of the Fiske Avenue parking lot into a community gathering place and pollinator garden, and the Greenfield Police Department switching its fleet to hybrid cruisers and replacing the station’s HVAC system with a higher-efficiency system. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Shutesbury Conservation Commission Told New Wetlands Regs Exceed Authority, Could Bar New Septic Systems by Scott Merzbach (9/15/23). Observing that the Conservation Commission’s new draft regulations related to wetlands could put Shutesbury at legal risk, through proposed language that could prohibit new septic systems and any sort of development in and near vernal pools, a Boston attorney is advising the Select Board to instead consider bringing a revised wetlands bylaw to Town Meeting to replace one adopted in 1987. “Your bylaw is so out of date, and has missed so many updates that have been recommended, that in our opinion it’s legally inadequate and insufficient to support this proposed set of regulations, which are large, long, detailed, comprehensive and aggressive,” Gregor McGregor of McGregor, Legere and Stevens PC told the Select Board Tuesday. “They make a new era in wetlands permitting, and several things are banned outright.” Instead of continuing on with the draft regulations, McGregor is recommending that Shutesbury look to adopt a model wetlands bylaw from the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions that has been approved by the state attorney general and includes criteria focused on combating climate change. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

COVID Cases Trending Up In Area, Though Levels Still Lower Than Last Year by Alexander MacDougall (9/13/23). Cases of COVID-19 have been on the rise throughout the Pioneer Valley over the past month, although not to the extent that they were a year ago, according to health officials. Data from Northampton Wastewater Treatment Plant shows a spike of COVID-19 cases in August detected in stool samples to their highest level since April. Wastewater data from Springfield, Hadley and Amherst also showed higher concentrations of positive samples since the beginning of August, reaching levels not seen since early spring or late winter of last year. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Northampton Community Responders Put Out Welcome Mat by Alexander MacDougall (9/8/23). The city’s newly formed Division of Community Care held an opening ceremony for its new community space in Roundhouse Plaza on Friday, capping 2½ years of efforts by both city and local state officials to bring an alternative emergency response unit to the city. “I’m holding back the tears,” said city Health Commissioner Merridith O’Leary, standing in front of the crowd gathered in front of the plaza to celebrate the opening. “This is a momentous occasion that marks the beginning of a journey filled with innovation, inspiration, and boundless possibilities.” The idea for the Division of Community Care, which operates under the city’s Department of Health and Human Services, came in 2021 following nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minnesota. Under former Mayor David Narkewicz and then-City Council president and current Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, the city formed the Northampton Policing Review Commission to explore and propose alternatives to traditional policing. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Hadley Planners Wary Of Proposed 232-unit Complex Near UMass by Scott Merzbach (8/17/23). Despite showing interest in participating in a state program to allow denser residential development in certain areas of Hadley, Planning Board members appear less inclined to pursue such a zoning change for a 232-unit, multi-family apartment project on 45 acres between Rocky Hill Road and North Maple Street. Though Trinitas Ventures of Lafayette, Indiana has entered into a contract for redevelopment of the former farm owned by the Babb family, planners informed the development team and their attorney Thomas Reidy of Bacon Wilson PC at a meeting Tuesday that the project faces many hurdles.“ This seems like it’s a long shot, at best,” said Planning Board Clerk William Dwyer. Town zoning generally prohibits multiple residential units on a parcel, but planners have begun exploring using Chapter 40R, the state’s smart growth program, for the possible redevelopment of properties along Route 9, such as the Village Barn Shops near the Coolidge Bridge and the former EconoLodge hotel near Mountain Farms Mall, which are close to public transit and shopping. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Protesters Rally Against Police Brutality In Northampton After Violent Arrest by Dusty Christensen (8/14/23). Last week, when The Shoestring published a video of Northampton police tackling and pepper-spraying a 60-year-old woman in April, city resident Jada Tarbutton was disturbed. As a Black woman who lives in Northampton, she said the violent arrest of a person of color reinforced her belief that the city’s progressive reputation is only true for some of its residents. “I’m scared in Northampton,” she said. “It hurts my heart. I don’t feel safe.” Tarbutton was one of over 70 people who showed up at City Hall on Sunday to protest against police brutality. The demonstration came after The Shoestring broke the story that on April 4, police pulled over Marisol Driouech — who was in the city working as a food-delivery driver — and within five minutes had yanked her out of her car, tackled her to the ground and pepper sprayed her. The Northampton Police Department cleared the arresting officer, John Sellew, and Jonathan Bartlett, the officer who pepper-sprayed Driouech, of any wrongdoing. So did a consulting firm the department hired to investigate the incident. But for those gathered Monday, the incident was a clear case of police violently escalating a minor traffic stop on a woman whose first language is Spanish and who told Sellew she didn’t understand him. (The Shoestring)

Higher Education
The Evisceration Of A Public University by Lisa Corrigan (8/16/23). Last week, West Virginia University (WVU) announced a plan to raze some of its core programs. The public land-grant university intends to eliminate 9 percent of its majors (32 programs total), all of its foreign language programs, and 16 percent of its full-time faculty members (169 in total). The departments targeted for these massive cuts count Truman, Marshall, Fulbright, and Rhodes scholars among their alumni. These cuts were recommended by the consulting firm rpk GROUP, and there’s every reason to believe they’re a trial balloon for doing this elsewhere. Anyone who cares about higher education should be alarmed about what this portends for public universities.These changes are the functional equivalent of an atomic bomb at WVU, and stand to make it increasingly difficult for the institution to meet its stated mission to create “a diverse and inclusive culture that advances education, healthcare and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity.” So why is it doing this? (The Nation)

Authoritarians Come For The Academy by Jennifer Ruth (8/14/23). In China in 2008, I told everyone I could — my colleagues and students at Wuhan University, the people staffing the “foreign-expert guesthouse” where I lived, taxi drivers — that America was a shameful mess. I’d elaborate: President George W. Bush had disastrously invaded Iraq and was setting the country back on the environment and on minority rights. My audience never took me that seriously. Smiling, they’d say America is great, superior to China. Sometimes, they warned me to be careful around subjects considered sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party. “Avoid the three T’s,” I was told (Taiwan, Tibet, Tiananmen). My interlocutors weren’t just being polite about my country. Rather, my insults were more like advertisements, proof that America’s freedom of speech is the real deal.Two recent op-eds — one by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick of Texas for the Houston Chronicle, and the other by Christopher F. Rufo for The New York Times — invoke democracy only to undermine it, arguing that political interference in public universities is justified. (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Climate News
Held v. Montana: First US Youth Climate Lawsuit Supports Right to Clean Environment by Lexi McMenamin (8/15/23).The presiding judge in a Montana lawsuit, Held v. Montana, that alleges the state’s continued investment in fossil fuels violates young people’s right to a “clean and healthful environment” has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, paving the way for similar litigation across the country in the fight for action on the climate crisis.At the heart of the case are 16 young people who described how climate change has ravaged their short lives, such as seeing livestock killed by fluctuating weather patterns, and wildfire smoke that strains children with asthma. Montana’s state constitution includes an inalienable right to a “clean and healthful environment,” and it’s on that basis that the complaint accuses the state of “neglecting their constitutional duty to preserve and protect the environment for future generations,” wrote Grist’s Katie Myers. (Teen Vogue).

What To Do When The World Is Ending by Yotam Marom (3/13/22). I am part of a generation that feels, constantly, and even in the most mundane moments, that the world is ending. Almost every article I read these days begins with the same preamble listing all of the overlapping crises, topped off by the climate crisis, which will quite possibly lead to the extinction of our species. We have been told so many times that we have an extremely brief window to turn things around, and even then, it is already too late in many ways. I feel swallowed by despair, and I know I’m not alone. But while there are some things about this moment that feel unique, I remind myself that the experience of the world ending is not new. Whether due to a prophecy or a very real looming threat, many of our ancestors also likely felt that the world was ending. And in many cases their worlds did end. The devastation on Easter Island, the fall of Carthage, the arrival of Columbus, the centuries of chattel slavery, the destruction of Hiroshima, the Cold War, even the Cuban missile crisis — these all must have felt like the end of the world. Facing loss, despair, uncertainty, and death is as much a part of the human experience as anything else. It’s true that this notion of historic solidarity might not be encouraging. But perhaps it is useful in another way, can point us toward some wisdom we have yet to unlock. Maybe it can shed some light on a question it would serve us well to answer: what do people do when their worlds are ending? (Medium)




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