Around Amherst: Town lays out climate change action on website

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-23-2024 11:01 AM

AMHERST — A town website focused on the municipal work related to addressing climate change and making Amherst more sustainable recently went live.

“It’s pretty much a one-stop opportunity to access information on what has been done, what is being done, and what we plan to do in regards to sustainability and climate action,” Stephanie Ciccarello, Amherst’s director of sustainability, said about the new dashboard. “It also features recommendations on what residents can do and how to become involved in addressing climate change.”

The town hired KLA Associates of Boston, using American Rescue Plan Act money, to develop the website at https://sustainabilitydashboard.amherstma.gov/

The Climate Action, Adaptation and Resilience Plan, produced by the Energy and Climate Action Committee and staff, with guidance from Linnean Solutions of Cambridge, serves as the foundation for the website’s layout. The plan shows current or planned initiatives, with each section having a subsection on what residents can do to contribute to reducing the use of fossil fuels. There is also a page for residents to access relevant reports and tools, including the Amherst Solar Mapping Tool developed and released last year.

“We are pleased to be able to prominently feature the great work that has been done, and is being done, to address climate change and sustainability in Amherst,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman said in a statement. “Amherst is a leader in this regard as proven by our success in meeting our Green Communities goal of reducing municipal carbon emission levels 20% below baseline emissions over the last three years.”

Bockelman said more has to be done to achieve the goal of 100% carbon neutrality by 2050 established by the Town Council.

“It is important that we maintain our focus on the long-term goal, and hopefully this tool will make it easier for community members to both see how they can help and to track our town’s progress,” Bockelman said.

Silver Shuttle

More than 600 rides have been completed on the Silver Shuttle, the Senior Center van, since it was launched last May, the vast majority of them medical rides, but also trips to the grocery store and other destinations, Council on Aging President Jeanne Horrigan told the Town Council at a recent meeting.

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“This service is a lifeline and provides a wellness check on each rider,” Horrigan said.

But it’s not available full time, and ARPA funds cover only 19 hours of operation each week, meaning additional funding is needed. Horrigan said the Town Council may have to find room in the budget for the program or it will end.

“This would be very unfortunate considering virtually every other senior center in Hampshire County has a full-time driver, and at least one ADA van, if not multiple,” Horrigan said.

Marc Barrette, a member of the Council on Aging, told councilors that money is also needed to upgrade the Senior Center’s home at the Bangs Community Center, a building that is outdated and out of code, has no security cameras, lacks ventilation in the exercise room, and has a malfunctioning kitchen.

Town Hall steps project

Refurbished granite steps at the Town Hall’s main entrance on Boltwood Avenue can again be used by the public after being removed and fixed last summer.

The main entrance, closed since June 2023, reopened this week, with the steps, dating to 1889, back in place following a $265,000 project to deal with an inadequate substructure that was causing deterioration of mortar and detachment of the granite blocks.

Bockelman said some work remains to clean up the connection between the steps and the sidewalk, currently patched with asphalt. That is part of the ongoing North Common project, an overhaul of the greenspace in front of Town Hall that will resume in late winter or early spring.

Battery storage project

The Conservation Commission is reviewing a battery storage project proposed by LSE Fornax LLC on land owned by W.D. Cowls at 451 Montague Road, near a 5,000 kilowatt solar project on 16.5 acres off Pulpit Hill Road.

Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacque told the commission that the battery installation will be within a 50-foot no-disturb buffer and a 75-foot business setback from wetlands. The commission’s approval is needed, along with that of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Fire Department. Commission member Laura Pagliarulo said it is unfortunate that the project is now touching wetlands.

Erik Anderson, a representative of LSE, said the project, across from Old Montague Road, was originally approved in 2020, but an interconnections agreement with Eversource was later broken. The state Department of Public Utilities settled the matter by requiring the battery storage be within the wetlands buffer zone.

The project will take up 9,642 square feet, or less than a quarter-acre, and include electrical equipment, a containment structure, fences, and an access road and utility poles. The commission’s review continues Feb. 28.

Day of Racial Healing

“How we heal” and “changing the narrative” are among the themes for a reimagined National Day of Racial Healing set for Feb. 29 at 6 p.m. at Crocker Farm School, 280 West St.

People can register for the event, hosted by the town’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, on the town website. The day, usually coinciding with Martin Luther King Day, was postponed due to snow.