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North Adams Council Candidates on Green Initiatives

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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — GreeNA, a new citizens' committee that aims to promote sustainability and increase environmental awareness in North Adams, sent a questionnaire to all 2019 candidates for City Council. 
We wanted voters to know where the 14 candidates for the nine seats on the City Council stand on issues of interest to our committee. iBerkshires is posting the responses as a public service.
Responses were received from Keith Bona, Robert Cardimino, Marie T. Harpin, Paul Hopkins, Benjamin Lamb, and Bryan Sapienza.
Questions and responses follow.

1) How can the city improve composting and recycling to reduce our waste stream?

Keith Bona: A lot of food goes to waste each day at the schools. First place to start and expand if in place. It teaches the children about composting and waste. The compost can be brought to the [North Adams Public Schools] greenhouse program.
Robert Cardimino: City ordinance requires separating plastic [recyclables] from waste. Haulers must pick up both. Not being enforced.
Marie T. Harpin: I would be to encourage composting, an issue that had been broached by me before: 'It's an enormous amount of the waste. I support community composting,' as noted in the article from iBerkshires in May 2019.
Paul Hopkins: I'd like to examine the idea of single-stream recycling, wherein residents would not need to separate items. I've seen it in action in other communities and I believe it encourages more recycling. Education is always a plus; a public awareness campaign on composting would be useful to make more people aware of what can be composted, and what ought to be composted (much if not most of it can be used right in your yard).
When all the information is in, I suspect I will support North Adams joining the Northern Berkshire Solid Waste District. We have some big challenges ahead when it comes to solid waste disposal and recycling, and it's generally better to approach those problems with allies.
A thought: I recommend a visit to the North Adams Transfer Station. I am frequently surprised by the amount of trash produced by one small city. It gives you pause.
Benjamin Lamb: I think linking with the breadth of regional and state resources that support
improved composting and recycling is key. Recycling is an effort I've been an active proponent of directly, including integrating the first on-street recycling in downtown that we've had in recent history through the Eagle Street Initiative. We were passionate about having recycling on the street as part of our MassDevelopment grant project, and through this pilot over the last two years, further integration of downtown recycling is likely to come about through the city administration. This is a big win, but obviously more recycling is needed. 
I am a fan of finding ways to integrate recycling habits across the board, but more prefer curbing a culture of single-use items so that there is generally a decreased refuse stream. This I see being a bit of a heavy lift in the school systems, but also have loved seeing the work of [Northern Berkshire Community Coalition] through the UNO Center workshops that help to inform folks of opportunities to cut waste and think creatively. On the composing side, I am definitely in favor of finding ways to integrate both small and large scale composting within the region and in North Adams. 
There are several programs I'd like to see activated on a larger scale in the city, including working with The Green Team programs to implement in-school compost programs. I think there is a lot of potential to build habits with our youth to then trickle up a more comprehensive approach to composting and waste reduction behaviors. A commercial scale compost program (ideally supported with a fleet of no-emission transports) would be an aspirational goal to see in North Berkshire.
Bryan Sapienza: I believe that we can improve the process by teaching and instructing our city residents on how to separate their waste products into separate streams and how to properly dispose of each kind of waste. The city should work with private haulers to make it easier for the residents that use those services to dispose of their waste. In addition the city should work with private haulers to make a more efficient process for them to properly dispose of each type of waste collected.

2) Do you support a single-use plastic ban for North Adams? Specific ideas welcome here.

Keith Bona: I don't support city government requiring a plastic bag ban until it leads the way with their own responsibilities. Half a million plasticware pieces and foam/plastic trays get tossed annually at our schools. They are finally looking at better disposable forms of utensils, but still seems wasteful compared to using reusable utensils. Most the city buildings don't properly recycle materials and much of it goes in regular trash. 
I also disagree with an option the state is considering where it would charge for plastic or paper bags. The largest chains, which are the biggest offenders, would profit more from that as they get the bags at a small percentage cost compared to the small, locally owned shops. They would make money from that law while it would cost the small independent owners. (Bona operates a vintage and craft store on Main Street.) More and more people are buying from the giant online companies like amazon and each package comes in a single use plastic bags or bubble wrap envelope. If a law is created it needs to be across the board to all businesses people buy from.
I'd rather a continued effort teaching consumers to not use plastic if needed, and the stores to offer options. I have both paper and plastic as different products work best for both, and I don't want to put paper goods like books and album covers in thin paper bags when its raining and snowing. But we ask all customers if they want a bag at all, and that alone saves 70 percent of bags being wasted. Most customers will not take a bag, and only about 5 percent of tourists and people shopping niche/boutique stores bring in a tote compared to a supermarket. I'm not opposed to a plastic bag ban, but I'm looking at a bigger picture
and don't believe simply enforcing the bag ban alone is the best approach. I did support the state bottle bill, which failed.
Robert Cardimino: Yes, and plastic straws. Ask more merchants to participate.
Marie T. Harpin: I support a plastic bag ban for stores of 40,000 square feet or more as noted in an article from July 2018. I believe big-box stores are the largest contributors to plastic bags in North Adams. I also believe many retailers are making their own procedures to abandon plastic.
Paul Hopkins: North Adams recently considered such a ban and after conducting a public survey — admittedly non-scientific, yet useful — our conclusion was that a ban was not the way to go at that time. Many residents indicated they prefer single-use plastic bags for reasons of convenience but also because they reuse them at home. Many are already moving away from using plastic and those who continue to, have talked about the usefulness of plastic for now.
I believe we're already heading that way as a society; Big Y is leading the way in North Adams and I am optimistic that Massachusetts will enact a statewide policy. I have about a dozen of the reusable bags myself and have gotten into the habit of bringing them into grocery stores and big-box stores. 
That said, I have also noticed that much more plastic waste comes in the form of packaging, which we also need to address. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
Benjamin Lamb: Ultimately I would like to see a single-use plastic ban across the board, but I think this is something that will take time and intentional stages of progress to get there. Without building a culture around it, a full plastic ban outright is likely to face huge opposition and ultimately may fail.
If we again begin rolling out programs to cut single use in our public agencies, schools, and major institutions, we can progressively get to a point where the infrastructure for little-to-no single-use plastic is all pre-set, so that a ban becomes pre-validated by community activity and common practice. I also think that with the cost of compostable items decreasing year after year, soon the argument of cost will no longer be and issue, but investment in the technology to bring those costs down needs to ramp up also. 
Bryan Sapienza: I do not support a single-use plastic bag ban for one of many reasons. The primary reason is that I believe the consumer/residents should be able to make a conscious choice on whether or not they continue to bring home their groceries and other goods in plastic bag, or use reusable shopping bags. 
Again, I believe that the city should work with local merchants in educating people in the benefits of using reusable bags instead of the plastic bags. As a side note I don't agree with how one local supermarket chain forced consumers into reusable bags by eliminating the option of plastic bags altogether. The alternatives they offered were to use your own bags, or charging customers a fee for each paper bag used. We have a lot of low-income residents in the city and it is senseless to charge an extra fee to be able to transport your groceries home.
Lastly this is New England and as in typical New Englander fashion, nothing is single use in this part of the country, including single-use plastic bags. Many of us use these bags two, maybe three times or more before they are disposed of.

30) Would you support zoning changes to protect future farmland in low-lying areas?

Keith Bona: (No response to this question.)
Robert Cardimino: Yes, with zoning laws.
Marie T. Harpin: I support issues from the effects of climate change but I haven't reviewed the issues in North Adams and dangers to farmland in low-lying areas. I would need to be educated on the issue.
Paul Hopkins: This would be on a case-by-case basis, but in general, yes, I would support measures to protect farmland. Many of our low-lying areas are wetlands and farmland tends to be outside of the city. Farming is a huge part of the Berkshire economy and needs protection when appropriate.
Benjamin Lamb: Absolutely. Not only does preserving farmland helps to ensure food security in our communities going forward, it also helps to emphasize the value we put on locally grown/raised food. A secondary benefit as well is that it helps to prevent putting additional development into floodplain areas. While farmland can actually benefit from the nutrients dropped in a floodplain through seasonal flooding, building development compacts that same soil, decreases drainage capacity, and is usually damaged when flooding occurs. 
Bryan Sapienza: I have no opinion of this particular subject.

4) Do you support restoring public access of the Hoosac River near downtown?

Keith Bona: I have worked with the Hoosic River Revival group on some of their projects and
marketing efforts. I fully support what is being discussed with the river proposals.
Robert Cardimino: Yes, it is working in other cities.
Marie T. Harpin: Yes, if it's approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Paul Hopkins: Absolutely. I'm a big believer in the work of the Hoosac River Revival Coalition and have been encouraged by the public reaction to that project. While there are funding challenges, the concept is right on target. The Hoosac River is an asset. Newer models for controlling water flow indicate that we could improve access to the river without endangering property.
Benjamin Lamb: I would love to see the river recaptured in a way that allows public access but also creates even better flood control. We know that floods are bound to occur, and we know that the current chute system in place is antiquated and degraded past its usable lifespan. Taking best practices from other communities with downtown riverscapes is the key to us activating the river as not just a way to move water but a way to engage the community. It has great potential for growing outdoor recreation, but also having an impact on the health and wellness of the community in the long term.
Bryan Sapienza: Many cities have a prolific waterfront, I would like to see such a plan for downtown North Adams. I believe through careful thought, research, and some planning we can make areas of the Hoosac River accessible to residents. We also have to remember that the city's flood control chutes were built for a reason. We need to maintain the integrity of these systems with any such accessibility plan.

5) Do you support designating and protecting green spaces in North Adams?

Keith Bona: As a councilor I have supported funding for green space expansions, increased funds to Windsor Lake and campground, and parks and recreational areas. I want to see the city start putting some funds towards improving the trails besides just the bike trail effort, as I know from talking with visitors they are as important of an amenity as Mass MoCA [Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art].
Robert Cardimino: Yes, especially in downtown.
Marie T. Harpin: Depends on where and what other issues it effects and if the community is involved with selection areas with several meetings reaching all city demographics so all feel involved in
Paul Hopkins: As Mass MoCA's recent analysis pointed out — with regard to adding a green space on Marshall Street — a significant percentage of our downtown area is paved, either as parking lots or streets, including sidewalks. I think it's important to add green space wherever it's appropriate, and even if a paved surface is necessary, that we encourage the use of permeable surfaces, a la the Greylock Works parking lot pavers which allow drainage directly into the ground beneath.
Benjamin Lamb: Yes, green space in any community is proven to have far reaching positive impacts. I think we see that as a community in general, and while we are surrounded by green space on our perimeter and in the hills, recognizing the value of green space in our downtown is becoming more prevalent. 
Our Tree City designation and program is a great example of embracing this view for the future, and the recent plans and developments of new green space and pocket parks in downtown also bolster this view of a greener downtown. On Eagle Street this was a goal as well, by growing and revitalizing the pocket park we aimed to create increased green space that provides both a social space but also improved environments for pollinators through the plants we put in. It's great to see bees buzzing during our Friday coffee dates.
Bryan Sapienza: I would support the protection of green spaces in the city, as long as protection does not impede controlled growth. I support a current project by Mass MoCA to turn the former Leu Lot into a green space for our downtown area. I even suggested that they could work the project to include access to the Hoosac River in that part of town. I also suggested the possibility of some type of public amphitheater for the site that would function with accessibility to the river.

6) What do you recommend doing about cleaning up industrial contamination such as trichloroethylene and mercury in affected areas of the city?

Keith Bona: Cleaning up contaminated areas needs funding from the state and feds. The city budget can't touch it as it's very costly nor does the city staff have the equipment or certification to clean it. That's working with our state officials to find funding for both private and public areas that need to be cleaned.
Robert Cardimino: Making sure each industrial site is cleaned up properly and possesses a 2IE [a state environmental impact statement for oil and hazardous materials).
Marie T. Harpin: Since this is an issue that is rarely discussed, I would recommend starting with community education and awareness.
Paul Hopkins: While the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency exist to oversee such cleanups, it's important that the city make it clear that the environment and its cleanliness and safety are paramount. Permitting processes already include requirements but those responsible need to know that the city takes it seriously.
Benjamin Lamb: While not being an expert in toxic land contamination, I think we need to continue to embrace programs like the brownfields efforts through Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and other opportunities that allow us to address these properties so that they can eventually be renewed with a future life. This goes beyond just removal of the toxins, but also tracking movement of subsurface material that may travel along with the groundwater. 
The more informed we are about these contaminated properties, the more we can advocate and allocate accordingly to remediate. Staying attuned to grant opportunities, and working with private developers to help them find a viable path to remediate is also key, which may at times include tax incentive support and working with our partners at the state and federal levels. These are 'all hands on deck' initiatives, and vital to preventing those toxins from getting into our air, water, food and eventually us.
Bryan Sapienza: I believe that contamination should be mitigated wherever possible and practical. I don't think that the city should have to bear the cost of such mitigation, especially that created by private industry in the past.

7) What other green initiatives would you like to see in North Adams?

Keith Bona: The city needs to do a better job on educating about recyclables in the schools, to its staff and residents. The city should be a role model to its residents. The City Council pushed to have the city start getting hybrid vehicles, which we have started purchases. I don't want the city to just say we want to be greener, I want to see actual in-house policy and actions that prove it.
Robert Cardimino: A hydro-electric generator at the Eclipse Dam on Union Street.
Marie T. Harpin: I fully supported the Solarize Mass Plus North Adams and Williamstown initiative and would love to see additional programs for future years. In addition, I support green awareness education and awareness programs along with more city initiatives for solar at city buildings.
Paul Hopkins: Greater opportunities to recycle electronics and appliances, and greater opportunities to get rid of hazardous waste. But let's be clear — those things cost money and we need to know where the money will come from. I'd love to see more composting; let's get students involved in that. Perhaps it's time again to focus on the 'Reduce-Reuse-Recycle' philosophy … it reduces waste but also reduces cost.
Benjamin Lamb: I think these questions cover the majority of things that I would think of, but there are a handful of other tidbits I'd bring up. I would like to see a continued appreciation and focus on renewable energy for municipal purposes. Going beyond just solar arrays, but also looking to continue our push towards 'greening' our city vehicle fleet. I'm excited that thanks to the advocacy of the council and in working with the mayor, two of our vehicles are now hybrids, and I look forward to that becoming a normal practice by the city. Along those lines, it would be great to see electric vehicle charging opportunities around the city to improve access for those looking to drive electric. 
Additionally, continuing to advocate and evolve our bikeability and walkability is imperative to becoming more green. Not only is this a green behavior, but it is also a quality of life aspect that will help us retain our youth and recruit new population to the city who look for bikeable and walkable communities. Finally, I'd love for us to pilot and potentially adopt innovative practices that are seeing benefits in other communities. I think we are great at trying things out and being comfortable with novel approaches and potential failures, but I don't know that we've approached green initiatives in that same way. 
For me those efforts would include things like allowing and promoting rooftop gardening on our commercial buildings, 'white roofing' downtown, installing pollinator hotels, becoming as 'no spray' as possible with our landscaping, and increasing our edible flora around the community with more fruit trees and bushes for communal use. There is no single thing that will fix the challenges we face when it comes to our environmental issues, but a constellation of actions and initiatives both small and large have the potential to do a great deal of good. 
Bryan Sapienza: I would like to see programs that teach people how to use less energy and create less waste. We also have a lot of old housing in this city that is very energy inefficient. I would propose developing low interest loan programs and material purchasing incentives that would make it possible for these home owners make their homes more energy efficient. 
One initiative would be the conversion of gas discharge (fluorescent, and sodium vapor), and incandescent lighting to LED lighting. I have already done this in my own home and National Grid has already converted most of the city's street lighting to LEDs. I would support any initiative for the city itself to convert lighting in its buildings to LED fixtures.

Tags: candidates,   election 2019,   North Adams City Council,   

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North Adams School Committee Votes for Remote Learning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday rejected a hybrid school reopening model to vote 3-2 to go full remote. 
The decision to start school with the remote option was apparently influenced by a letter the School Committee members received from the North Adams Teachers Association expressing concern over re-entering the schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Committee member Tara Jacobs said she was not comfortable potentially exposing staff to the novel coronavirus in motioning to go with the remote option to start and later transition to a hybrid model. 
"There's no good scenario but the decision to open the school and have someone dying or having health conditions for the rest of their life ... ," she said, motioning to start the school year remotely.
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