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The city is making revisions to the proposed riverside park to bring down costs, including eliminating a bridge and some pathways.

Pittsfield Tweaks Westside Riverway Park Design

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Conservation Commission reviewed a trimmed-down Westside Riverway Park plan that the city hopes will receive lower bids.
 
Last week, the commissioners discussed with Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath a modified previously approved plan that lowers the overall cost of the project.
 
"There has been some retooling of the project and certain parts of the project had to be removed and parts of the project have been trimmed down," McGrath said during the meeting aired Aug.  29 on PCTV. "The impacts have been lessened."
 
Last month, McGrath informed the Parks Commission that the bids for the project came in too high and the city would have to rebid the project. 
 
The city received grant funds to develop a park on a Dewey Avenue parcel where blighted homes used to sit.
 
McGrath said the biggest change is the elimination of a bridge that would connect the park to John Street. He said the bridge seemed to be one of the main cost drivers. 
 
"We carved that off," he said. "We still want a bridge crossing to connect the park to the neighborhood but at this point in time it does not seem to be possible."
 
He said the performance space will be shifted from the north side of the park to the south. This will also decrease the overall cost because there would be less grading needed. 
 
"We flip-flopped the layout to the park," he said. "We haven't lost any of the functionality of the park."
 
He said the canoe launch will also be moved to the south side of the park and some pathways were removed from the initial design.
 
McGrath said the city hoped to send the project out to bid again soon and hopefully be able to begin construction this year before the grant deadline of the summer of next year.   
 
In other business, the commission continued Guild Solar LLC's notice of intent application request hearing for the installation of a ground-mounted solar energy facility off of Gamwell Avenue to consider an alternative access area.
 
Daniel Band of Guild Solar, who attended the meeting, said they looked at access roads off Barker Road, Claremont Street, and Gamwell Avenue -- all of which had environmental impacts -- but deemed Barker Road the preferred access area.
 
Band said construction on Barker would be less intense and would be less of a nuisance to surrounding neighborhoods.
 
"You would have construction vehicles going through the neighborhoods and the utility poles would be very close to people's houses," he said. 
 
Ban said Barker already had access to three-phase power. Bringing in three-phase power from Gamwell would cost $555,000 and Claremont would cost $462,000.
 
Interconnection upgrade costs are also more favorable on Barker with a cost of $427,000. To consider Gamwell and Claremont would send them back to the beginning of the process and jump the interconnection upgrade costs to $7.8 million.
 
The alternative routes would also require a restudy and additional permitting time which would take another 12 to 36 months.
 
Band said overall the alternative routes the state Department of Environmental Protection asked them to look at would blow through the $8.5 million budget, which is something the DEP considers. 
 
The commissioners noted a triangular plot of land near the proposed array and asked if this area was considered.
 
Representatives with Guild said this plot is owned by another individual and there is intermittent stream they would have to impact and cross.  
 
Commissioner Thomas Sakshaug felt this would be less of an impact than building in the riverfront area.
 
"Crossing an intermittent stream does not trigger an alternative analysis and my sympathies for the amount of time things take ... is just not there," he said. "The minute you knew you were in a riverfront area that should have triggered to look at all alternatives right then and there ... this should not be a surprise."
 
Guild and the commission differed in the opinion that crossing the stream would be a lesser impact than building along the waterfront. Band said that going over the stream would also be costly because a bridge would have to accommodate a fire truck. He said they would be looking well over $100,000.
 
With this new information, the commission voted to continue the hearing until later in the month. 
 
Some residents spoke in opposition of the project fearing it would negatively affect the environment and wildlife  
 
Resident Robert LeBlanc was specifically concerned about the wood turtles that inhabit the area during the summer.
 
Guild noted that they discussed this with MassWildlife and this area will be fenced off and left untouched.
 
The Community Development Board also voted to continue the hearing at its meeting earlier this week. The Conservation Commission must vote on the notice of intent before other boards can take action.

Tags: conservation commission,   public parks,   

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Supplemental Bill Has $1M for Rural Schools, $200K for Barton's Crossing

BOSTON — The Legislature's recently passed $541 million closeout supplemental budget for fiscal 2019 includes another $1 million rural school aid, for in fiscal 2020, for a total of $3.5 million in rural school aid this fiscal year. 
 
"I'm happy to see this bill make those investments in public education, regional school transportation, public transportation, among many other areas " said state Sen. Adam Hinds, who has been a strong proponent of increasing aid to the schools in his largely rural district. "It is my hope that, in providing this additional investment, we can expand this program and make meaningful investments in more school districts."
 
The Rural School Aid grant program helps school districts with low population densities and lower-than-average incomes address fiscal challenges and take steps to improve efficiency. Administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Rural School Aid is a source of funding separate from Chapter 70 education aid and is intended to supplement the FY20 operating budgets of eligible school districts.
 
In order to qualify for Rural School Aid, DESE must determine that a school district meets two requirements:
  1. The "rural factor " based student density per square mile of a school district; and
  2. Ability to pay, or the average per capital income of a school district.
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