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The Massachusetts Department of Transportation plans to rebuild and add sidewalks to Water Street (Route 43) in Williamstown.

Williamstown Conservation Commission Green Lights Water Street Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow & Associates talks about the Water Street project in front of the Conservation Commission on Thursday. 
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A planned rehabilitation of Water Street should be coordinated with efforts to alleviate water issues that have plagued an adjacent neighborhood, the Conservation Commission was told on Thursday.
Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation were in front of the commission for permitting on the road project, which is expected to go to bid this fall for construction in 2018 and '19.
Con Comm members and residents questioned whether the road work can coincide with a needed rerouting of Christmas Brook, which runs under Williams College property in that part of town through culverts that are prone to being overwhelmed during periods of heavy rain.
The Water Street project will widen and reconstruct that portion of State Route 43 from the road known as Heating Plant Drive to the north down to Taconic Golf Club — adding bike lanes, some additional parking and handicapped accessible sidewalks on both sides of the road.
The town began advocating for the reconstruction a decade ago as part of a strategy to spur economic activity in the business district.
The road work does not include the culvert project, but the commissioners were concerned that an eventual remedy to the flood problem does not someday require tearing up the road that Mass DOT plans to build.
Chairman Henry Art said the college is attempting to line up its construction schedule with the commonwealth’s.
"The college is contemplating a plan for some sort of new culvert system that would run down Latham Street and somehow get to the Green River," Art said. "It was clear from the discussion this afternoon [during a site visit to the Water Street project], that there has not been a great deal of communication.
"Within the next two weeks, the college is having a robust group meet and discuss plans for this area. After the site visit today, I took it upon myself to notify that group that we had a site visit and there’s a need to cooperate."
Engineer Charlie LaBatt of Guntlow & Associates, who presented the application to the Con Comm, said the college is aware of the timing of the road work.
"Their schedule [for the Christmas Brook project] I know got delayed on a couple of fronts, but this project’s schedule is on their radar," LaBatt said. "It’s almost two full summer seasons [to rebuild Water Street] in which to squeeze in a portion of that stuff so that the road doesn’t have to be done twice.
"I’m not sure what the timing is of the Christmas Brook piece of that. I know they’ve been working on it for a year or more."
The Con Comm briefly considered whether it had the authority to require coordination as a condition of approving the Water Street project but ultimately permitted the road work without tying it to the Christmas Brook project.
Art, a biology professor at the college, told his colleagues he would continue to communicate with the Williams group looking at the brook.
Most of the residents who attended Thursday's meeting left before it barely got started.
A planned hearing on a request for determination of applicability for a proposed Main Street hotel was canceled when the applicant withdrew the application, instead telling the commission it wanted to return with a notice of intent for the project.
Applicant Vipul "Vinny" Patel will be back at Town Hall next Thursday to request special permits from the Zoning Board of Appeals for his planned 77-room hotel.
The same goes for the second applicant before the Con Comm on Thursday evening.
Verizon Wireless and its local partner Pittsfield Cellular sought and received Con Comm approval for 100-foot monopole communications tower on Cold Spring Road (Route 7) near the junction with Route 2.
From an environmental standpoint, the application was fairly straightforward. The company is looking to install the pole on a previously degraded site and its application included compensatory planting in a nearby riverfront area.
The commissioners agreed that the plantings will be a net gain, although Art included a condition that the applicant use more appropriate species.
But in a possible preview of next week’s ZBA hearing, the Con Comm did hear objections from the floor about the visual impact of the proposed tower.
"Do the natural resources of the town include the scenic value of the southern and western approaches of the town?" asked Dustin Griffin, a member of the board of the Williamstown Rural Lands Foundation. "I think many people in town would argue one of the great resources of the town is the scenic value of those approaches."
Art told Griffin that the Con Comm does not make purely aesthetic decisions.
"My interpretation … is that may indeed be under the jurisdiction of the ZBA, but it is not one for the Con Comm under any current town bylaws and certainly not under the [commonwealth’s] Wetlands Protection Act. We have to deal with the impacts on the state-designated resource area, which is Hemlock Brook and the associated wetlands."
Commissioner Philip McKnight, who serves with Griffin on the board of WRLF, suggested that Verizon’s application was ill-timed and should come back to the Con Comm after it goes through the ZBA, which will require a consideration of, among other things, alternative sites for the tower.
Art pointed out that there is no requirement in the bylaw that applications go through the various town bodies in any particular order and that it would be unfair to start such a policy with the applicant before the commission.
The Con Comm signed off on the cell tower by a vote of 5-0-1 with McKnight abstaining.

Tags: conservation commission,   MassDOT,   road work,   water street,   

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Williams College Senior Named a Rhodes Scholar

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College senior Summiya Najam has been named a Rhodes Scholar for Pakistan for 2020.

Najam has been selected to join a class of approximately 100 students from more than 60 countries worldwide to receive this distinguished scholarship to study at Oxford University next year. She is Williams' 40th Rhodes Scholar.

Since the establishment of the scholarship in 1902, nearly 8,000 Rhodes Scholars have gone on to serve at the forefront of government, the professions, commerce, the arts, education, research, and other domains. The Rhodes Scholarships for Pakistan are a partnership between the Rhodes Trust and the Second Century Founder John McCall-MacBain.

An economics major from Islamabad, Pakistan, Najam is an applied microeconomist who is committed to bridging the gap between policy and minority experiences.

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