Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito shakes hands with Lee Selectmen Chairman David Consolati after he said he was a Republican.
LEE, Mass. — Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito assured local officials here that she's making sure small towns have access to funding for projects critical to their growth.
"Often I am the voice of the communities outside of Boston to make sure that the dollars get to other places in the commonwealth and to partner with others private and public to get things done," the former Shrewsbury selectman and state representative said on Tuesday.
Polito was speaking at the completion of one of those projects — the million-dollar rehabilitation of Forest Street that was made possible by MassWorks funding specifically set aside for rural communities.
"In this case we were able to use 10 percent of the funds for rural communities, we have a specific carve out for investments in rural communities, that is populations under 7,000 people," she said. "The roadway is important to this community."
Forest Street is a connector between Route 20 in Lee and Tyringham, provides the only access to the state boat ramp on Goose Pond and is used by school buses and public safety vehicles. The project, done on time and under budget by local contractor LB Corp., was a complete reclamation with installation of culverts, drainage and guardrails.
"The last few years this was like the lunar landscape now it's paved with gold," joked state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Pignatelli said this kind of infrastructure work is important for the economic development and growth of smaller towns.
State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, agreed, saying small towns need this support to ensure there's not a growing gap between eastern and Western Massachusetts.
"There's a difference between how you handle smaller towns and rural areas," he said. "It's important that we have more programs like this."
Lee was one of four stops on the lieutenant governor's visit to the Berkshires; she'd spent about an hour each in Washington, Becket and Tyringham to learn how state funding was being used to advance broadband infrastructure.
"When we came into office there were 53 communities that were not on a pathway to doing so," Polito said. "We're now at eight remaining and the three communities that we visited today are making great progress ... soon we hope to see the construction broadband infrastructure in their communities."
Tyringham, along with Egremont, Hancock, Peru and Princeton, are benefiting from a $4.4 million grant to Charter Communications, through the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative, to complete the "last mile" in internet connections. Charter will deliver access to Spectrum cable television, internet and voice services ranging upward from 60 megabits per second.
Washington received $490,000, Becket $2.1 million and New Ashford $280,000 in Last Mile grants toward municipal solutions to broadband connections.
In Tyringham, Charter Communications Director of Government Affairs Anna Lucey said the company is working with Verizon and Eversource in installing the connections, although the signoffs from those utilities may take some time.
"All the utility companies will be aware of the priority of these projects by the administration and the good partners at the state who will be working for you to push things along," she said to the roundtable of local residents and officials including Pignatelli and Hinds. "Once those come back, we have a conservative estimate of a year to build the entire system."
Customers can pick from different packages, starting from $29.99 for the first two years.
Jen Salinetti of Woven Roots Farm said she needed reliable internet service for her business, and the current satellite service she has isn't enough.
There is no cost to the town for the buildout but Charter is only required to cover a minimum of 96 percent.
"In our public hearings, there was a strong sentiment that we should cover the whole town so we're going to swing back to Charter after this and see what it would cost to pick up the rest," Selectmen Chairman James Consolati said. "So there might be a cost to the town."
Polito later described the access to broadband as "transformational in terms of having the ability to grow their economy, to connect more students — younger and older — to educational online learning and from a safety standpoint, from an aging standpoint, having that connectivity is so critically important."
She said she Gov. Charlie Baker were impressed by the partnerships happening in the Berkshires, pointing to the towns of Lee and Lenox now sharing an administrative officer, Christopher J. Ketchen.
Lee Selectmen Chairman David Consolati said those partnerships also cross parties, as he and fellow Republican Polito shook hands across Democrat Pignatelli.
"He's one of the biggest persons I call to have help," he said of Pignatelli. "We work together. That's the way it should be. We're all working for the same goal: to deal with our communities and to try to put the best foot forward and have things that we need done."
Consolati said he'd pushed for more from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and while he thought the Baker administration was doing better, he was going to push for more from them as well.
"Lieutenant governor, you came from the same place I did," he said. "We shouldn't be satisfied. We should always push for the next step. Unless we push for that next step, we're failing."
And if she was interested in another infrastructure project, he had a big one the town's been pursuing for years: new sewer and water lines to the town's three vacant mills.
"Give me a call," Consolati said as Polito laughed. "We'll work it out."
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