Town Services Committee Seeks Path Forward for Streetlight Regulations and Hauler Reform


Photo: Nareeta Martin / Unspalsh

Report on the Meeting of the Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO), October 13, 2023

The meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Anika Lopes (Chair), Andy Steinberg (at large), Dorothy Pam (District 3), Ana Devlin Gauthier (District 5), Shalini Bahl-Milne (District 5)

Staff: Paul Bockelman (Town Manager), Athena O’Keefe, (Clerk of Council), Guilford Mooring (Superintendent of Public Works)

Also: Susan Waite (Solid Waste Coordinator, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection), Jennifer Taub (Town Councilor District 3 and co-sponsor of the hauler reform proposal), Mandi Jo Hanneke (Town Councilor at large and co-sponsor of the streetlighting regulations proposal)

The number of members of the public attending was not announced.

Public Comment
Darcy DuMont, speaking on behalf of Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA), requested that ZWA be granted access to the Request for Information (RFI) responses from area trash haulers and urged the town to take the time to carefully study those responses. She requested that TSO not make a recommendation on hauler reform to the Town Council prior to the evaluation of this analysis. She requested that the council add to the Town Manager’s goals the re-establishment of a waste reduction committee (possibly grant funded) and assignment of whatever town hall staff is needed to do the cost analysis necessary for moving on to an Request for Proposal (RFP) for a hauler contract. Read her written public comment here.

Sponsors of proposed new streetlight regulations and a hauler reform bylaw presented progress reports to the  Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) and asked what more needs to be done to get the proposals out of committee and before the Town Council for discussion and a vote. In both cases, TSO felt that the proposals were not ready to be passed on to the Town Council. In discussing the issues, committee members noted that with this legislative session coming to an end, the aim of the committee should be to get proposals  into sufficient form so that following the November election, the newly constituted TSO will clearly understand what more needs to be done and will be able to resume deliberations without having to redo any of the work that has already been done.

Streetlights Proposal
Co-sponsors Ana Devlin Gauthier and Mandi Jo Hanneke shared a summary of the evolution of their streetlights proposal, first introduced over a year ago, and a description of where it stands now. They reported that they have been seeking compromises with constituencies that have expressed concerns about the proposed regulations, particularly about safety, and in discussions with transportation advocates Eve Vogel and Tracy Zafian. View the memo and updated proposal here. Read the input from Vogel and Zafian here, here, and here.

The sponsors’ memo included photos showing impacts of glare on visibility, emphasizing the need for glare reduction and by extension, the necessity of the technical specifications mandated by the proposed regulations. They did not, however, address Vogel’s detailed concerns about the impacts of proposed reduced lighting on visibility and safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, and users of public transportation (see e.g. here and here).

Left: Bright white high glare streetlights. Right: Same light fixtures but with warm white lights and no glare. Notice how much better the visibility is. Photo:

Hanneke thanked Vogel and Zafian for doing “a huge amount of work behind the scenes”  and said that she and her co-sponsor have narrowed their differences with concerned members of the public.

Andy Steinberg asked about the distinction between policy and implementation, and for clarification of who is responsible for each in the proposal. He said his understanding is that the Town Council sets policy and town staff (under the direction of the Town Manager) are responsible for implementation. He was concerned that the proposed  bylaw is too technical and precise, and whether many of its details  should be the purview of the executive branch and town staff. (Note: the proposal actually specifies a new lighting policy, although councilors used the terms “bylaw,” “regulations,” and “policy” interchangeably in their discussion). He argued that the council doesn’t have the capacity to get into the weeds on such issues and offered the example of recently adopted water and sewer regulations, where the particulars came from the Department of Public Works. He concluded, ”There’s a lot of work here that is being thrown at future councils, and we are committing their time, and we need to be thoughtful about that.” 

He said that the “Purpose” section of the proposal zeroes in on the council’s role, but then the proposal includes technical details beyond the council’s understanding. “There’s a lot of ‘the council shall’ in this proposal and we ought to be thinking about the best use of future council time,” he said.

Dorothy Pam agreed, saying, “We just don’t have the expertise to be writing these kinds of regulations. We are not experts in this area. Our job is to make sure that things that need to get done get done, and not to specify how they get done.”

Devlin Gauthier took issue with that. “Every action we take impacts people and creates staff work [and] you don’t need to be a lighting engineer to understand this policy,” she said. “We have taken a lot of what the experts have to say and made that accessible. We need technical specificity in areas that demand it and right now the town’s lighting policy/regulations lack technical specificity. We need to recognize that in an increasingly technological world, things need to be updated ever more frequently, probably every couple of years, and we haven’t looked at our lighting policy for 22 years.”

Steinberg responded, “We didn’t get into the operational details with the creation of CRESS but left that up to the executive branch.”. 

Shalini Bahl–Milne felt that the sponsors had not done sufficient outreach to move the proposal forward. She asked, “Why has the Transportation Advisory Committee [TAC] not been involved? And why hasn’t there been more outreach to the public? Why haven’t there been public listening sessions and outreach to the broader public? I would like to see a formal report from TAC and hear more about what the areas of remaining disagreement are.”

Devlin Gauthier strongly objected to Bahl-Milne’s critique, saying that there has been ample opportunity for the public to give input. “We did seek feedback from TAC — and we acknowledged that we brought them into the process later than was ideal.”

Hanneke said that the answers to Bahl-Milne’s questions are for the most part in the memo and that input from the public has been “ongoing.”

Pam concluded, “I don’t think that this is ready to go to the public and I thought that we would be having a lot more discussion before we moved on to a public hearing. I don’t think we’ve had sufficient public engagement.”

The discussion concluded without any motions and without specifying additional steps that will be taken to move the proposal out of committee.

Trash Hauler Reform
Guilford Mooring reported that the town has received three responses to the Request For Information (RFI) that was sent out to area haulers in August. Responses were received from Casella, Republic, and USA. Mooring said he has not yet read the responses but should have some rough numbers for the committee in a week or two. Bockelman said the fact that we have three companies interested is a good sign.

Bahl-Milne, a co-sponsor, offered a PowerPoint presentation [not provided in the meeting packet]summarizing the issues that need to be resolved to move the proposal forward. The current draft of the bylaw can be read here.

The revised bylaw would move the town from a system in which each resident contracts individually with a hauler (currently USA Waste and Recycling) to one in which the town would contract for trash hauling services through a competitive bidding process. The bylaw would adopt measures to reduce the flow of trash into the waste stream, including adoption of a pay as you throw system in which households that produce less trash would pay less. The new bylaw would also mandate curbside compost pickup. According to Zero Waste Amherst (ZWA), the proposal is likely to reduce the annual cost of trash disposal for most households.  A description of the proposed changes to the existing bylaw can be found here.  (See FAQ on the proposed bylaw here.)

Sponsors hope that the RFI will yield enough information about the services haulers can provide for the town to develop a Request For Proposal (RFP). The RFP would  solicit competitive bids for contracted services.

Devlin Gauthier asked whether the services the town seeks require the town to contract with a hauler or whether the same goals could be accomplished with the existing type of subscription service in which residents subscribe individually with a hauler that has been chosen by the town. She asked, if the services are not contracted by the town,  how would requirements such as customers removing organics from the trash would be enforceable?

Bahl-Milne responded that you can enforce requirements by requiring annual reporting from the haulers, but Mooring pointed out that haulers are already required to provide reports — and they just don’t provide them, even when the town requests them. “You need an enforcement mechanism with teeth,” he said, “and we don’t have that now. We did get reports when we had a recycling coordinator [but] without staff for enforcement, it’s just not going to happen.” 

Susan Waite said that under state law,  haulers are required to supply reports on request, so we need to get them to sign the agreement at the time of licensure and then request the reports, or specify in the agreement that they must be provided without having to be requested. “This is the only time –when they sign the rules for operating in Amherst– that we have any leverage under a subscription service. And there has been no compliance to date.” 

Overall, the discussants seemed to be skeptical about the possibility of effective enforcement through an annual report from the hauler.

Devlin Gauthier had several other concerns. She worried about bi-monthly pickups that are specified  in the proposal. “Thinking about compost sitting at the curb for two weeks, this doesn’t sound appealing to me and I’d like to see the community engagement responses on the variability of pickup. Also, the current wording strikes me as discouraging at-home composting, and so I’d like us to take a closer look and get more clarity there.” She noted that bears frequently get into her trash, and her solution is to keep her trash inside until pickup day.

She also worried about the timeline for implementation. “Implementation is proposed to take three years but I’d like to know more about how we get the public from here to there. These reforms will be a huge change for residents so the timeline for adoption seems very ambitious.” She added, “I would feel more comfortable if I saw an education plan for getting folks on board.” Reiterating a concern raised by some other members of the committee, she questioned committing to elements of the proposal before the town knows their cost. Finally, she asked for clarification of TSO’s role in the proposal. “I don’t think we have time as a committee to be crafting this policy and it feels like we’re being asked to draft it in committee and I don’t think we have the time to do that.” She said, “I would like to see the sponsors come back with a specific proposal.”

Waite assured the committee that there are creative solutions to all of the challenges we face. She added that pulling all of the food out of our trash makes that trash less attractive to animals.

Bahl-Milne added that one advantage of curbside compost is that it will take a lot of matter that can’t be composted in the backyard. “Our goal is to incentivize more folks to compost and that also means supporting those folks who are already doing it,” she said.

Jennifer Taub, a co-sponsor, asked if the RFI responses will be shared with the sponsors, and  Bockelman assured her that they would be. Taub observed, “There’s a lot of work yet to be done. Can we establish the [already] proposed food waste committee to take some of this on?” But she did not receive any response. She asked Mooring, Bockelman, and Waite, “What needs to happen to get us to an RFP? I think that if we can develop the road map for going forward by the end of the calendar year…that will leave us in good shape.”

Waite noted that most other communities have a standing committee that does a lot of the work that we need to get done.

Bockelman said that first we have to decide what it is we want haulers to provide, and that we are still far away from that.

Pam asked who will put together the RFP, noting that it seems as if it should come from town staff. Bockelman concurred saying that town staff would write the RFP. 

The meeting concluded with a sense that the sponsors are responsible for getting the proposal into final form and the Town Manager will be responsible  for assigning staff to cost out elements of the proposal as well as to draft the RFP. No timeline was specified for getting to that goal. The original timeline  was for the proposal to be sent to the Town Council before the November elections.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

The Amherst Indy welcomes your comment on this article. Comments must be signed with your real, full name & contact information; and must be factual and civil. See the Indy comment policy for more information.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.