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Cheshire Interested In Community Compact And Forestry Program

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will pursue the state Community Compact Program in hopes of receiving grant funding for its master plan.

Thomas Matusko, of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, urged the Selectmen on Tuesday to sign the agreement developed by the Baker administration that allows municipalities to take advantage of state services and assistance to complete agreed-upon best practices.

Matusko said the board can pick three projects to complete or resources to take advantage of from the list; one of the items is the development of a master plan.

"I think not too many communities in Berkshire County have really signed up for this," Matusko. "I think it is somewhat of a missed opportunity."

Cheshire has created a Master Plan Committee but with no funds, its members have found it difficult to really put any plan to paper. Matusko has been guiding the committee through the process and said the state would likely supply a match grant for a master plan if the town signs up.

Town Administrator Mark Webber said he will fill out the application.

The Selectmen also agreed to send a letter to support legislation that would designate the forested area in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts in the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership.

"Few things seem to make as much sense as this does," Selectman Robert Ciskowski said. "I have been through it and I can't really see any down side to it."

Matusko said the BRPC-driven project has been in development for two years and would provide 21 municipalities in Berkshire and Franklin counties with financial and technical resources to increase economic development through sustainable forestry practices.  

Municipalities and land owners can benefit from the program.

 "You know this area it is extensively forested and we are trying to capitalize on these extensive resources," Matusko said. "We want to increase economic development related to forestry through sustainable forestry practices."

He said BRPC now has a solid proposal for legislation. He said if the legislation passes at the state level, then it could be brought to the National Forest Service. The is no National Forest in Massachusetts.

"They haven't had a very good program for dealing with privately owned land so they are very interested in working with a program such as ours, which would be somewhat of a pilot program in the country," he said. "There is nothing really established like this now that would allow them to provide resources."

He added if the state legislation passes, BRPC will ask the state and federal government for $25 million to place in a trust fund.

"Most of that will be put into a revenue generating trust fund that could sustain this effort going forward," Matusko said. "I think sometimes with these initiatives ... you get a flash-in-the-pan program that is good for a few years and then they go away so our plan is that here would be a trust fund."

He said eventually the selectmen could vote to formally opt in, however this would be a year down the road if the state passes the legislation. He said it is normally difficult for single communities to get their hands on these resources and by teaming together there is a better chance the government will support it.

Matusko said currently they are undergoing a feasibility to see if it would be possible to utilize the abundant low grade wood in the area and build a heat wood pellet plant. Also, he added that there could be a multi-use center built.

Tags: BRPC,   community compact,   forestland,   master plan,   state forest,   

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