BRPC Studying Locations For Passenger Rail Stations

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The proposed line from the Berkshires to New York City.

LENOX, Mass. — Berkshire Regional Planning Commission wants to know which kinds of amenities the public would want in a train station.

The commission has partnered with the Housatonic Railroad Co. to do a land analysis of potential locations for passenger rail stations along a proposed line to New York City. The commission is looking for buildable areas along the line from the Scelsi Intermodel Center in Pittsfield to the Connecticut border and what amenities would be needed.

Gov. Deval Patrick has already made a pitch to restore passenger rail from New York City to the Berkshires and now with $240,000 in federal funds and $60,000 in Housatonic in-kind work, regional planners are helping the process along.

"The study itself is kind of narrow in focus," BRPC planner Brian Domina said. "We're going to carry out an objective land analysis. We're not building stations."

Domina said the grant tasks BRPC with two focuses. One would be to eliminate areas along the corridor that can't be built on and then identify issues with those that can — such as flood plains or endangered species. The other task would identify what the public would want and need in a train station and how the stations would "interface" with residents.

For the former, Domina said the planners will use geographic information systems (GIS) to identify locations. Domina said the analysis won't look at specific parcels, just narrow it to areas.  

For the latter, Domina said they are tasked with some design work by working with Housatonic to project ridership numbers if the rail line is built. That information will help determine size, types of amenities needed and what concerns residents would have with the interaction with the stations and line. For that portion, BRPC is hoping for additional public input.

"How would they use the service and what would they like to see at the stations?" Domina said.

Residents will have their chance to weigh-in on the north-south rail line and stations at two upcoming public workshop meetings. The first on will be held at Town Hall on Wednesday, June 26, at 6:30. The other will be held at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington on Wednesday, July 10, at 6:30.

The analysis could prove to be useful for Housatonic, which won't have access to at least one already existing station. The Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum, which owns the historic Lenox station, released a statement saying they wish their property not be to included. The museum also has a lease in place to manage the Stockbridge station.

The museum says the stations would need infrastructure changes to meet modern passenger codes that they are unwilling to make. They are "incompatible" for modern transit and renovations would "change the character" of the stations, said Berkshire Scenic Director Jay Green on Tuesday.

"We have no intention of selling or reusing the property in that fashion," Green said. "We don't intend to relinquish control."

Tags: passenger rail,   railroad,   train stations,   trains,   

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Ethics Commission Alleges Conflict Violations by West Stockbridge Chief

WEST STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — The Enforcement Division of the State Ethics Commission on Wednesday filed an order to show cause alleging that West Stockbridge Fire Chief Peter Skorput, a former Select Board member, committed multiple conflict-of-interest law violations, including setting stipends for himself, his daughter and his nephew; voting as a Select Board member to reappoint himself fire chief; and terminating a firefighter who had filed a complaint against him.
According to the order, shortly after Skorput was elected to the Select Board in 2013, a West Stockbridge official contacted the town's counsel about conflict-of-interest law exemptions available to Skorput regarding his serving both as a Select Board member and fire chief. 
Allegedly, town counsel advised the official that Skorput follow the requirements for a particular conflict-of-interest law exemption that would allow him to accept pay for both positions, and this was communicated to Skorput. From the time he was elected until January 2017, however, Skorput did not meet the exemption requirements and violated the conflict of law by continuing to hold his compensated fire chief position after his election to the Select Board, according to the order.
The order further alleges Skorput violated the conflict-of-interest law by participating officially in matters involving his own and his daughter's financial interests. In 2013, Skorput allegedly voted as a Select Board member to reappoint himself as fire chief. Also, as fire chief, he allegedly decided the amount of firefighter stipends for himself each December in 2013-2015 and for his daughter in 2013 and 2014, and as a Select Board member signed the pay warrants for his daughter's stipends. Additionally, at several Select Board meetings in 2015 and 2016, Skorput allegedly participated as a Select Board member in the board's review of complaints about his performance as fire chief.
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