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A forest view from Mohawk State Forest.

Williamstown's Art Chairing Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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Tom Matuszko, left, of BRPC and Hank Art appear before the Select Board to discuss the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership last year.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership took a half-dozen years to come to fruition, but its member towns are wasting no time taking advantage of the opportunities it provides.
"We were only authorized in the fall, and there's been a round of small grants," Williamstown representative Henry Art said last week. "Ten towns have applied for $25,000 $20,000 in grants from the state for trails and access improvement or carbon sequestration projects. … The towns will manage woodlands not just for saw logs and various products removed from the site but for sequestration as well.
"It's off and running."
Earlier in the week, Art was elected to chair the large MTWP board that will govern the partnership, a collaborative effort spearheaded by the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
"[The partnership] presents a model that brings the resources of the U.S. Forest Service with statewide forestry and environmental resources and people from UMass Forestry together for probably the first time to have regionwide sustainable and ecologically relevant management to our forestry resources," Art said. "The idea that we will have individual landowners educated and have resources available to them to undertake sustainable resource management on their property is a huge step forward.
"We're in a region with a lot of forests and a lot of forestry going on. But most of the operations are not looked upon as having criteria for sustainability. Often, what happens is someone is holding land of 10 acres or less. They want to sell it, so they have it logged, and the logging done is not necessarily done for the benefit of future generations of forest or for the landowners themselves, for that matter. The new owner is purchasing something of reduced value in terms of forest resources and the environment than it should be."
The board Art now chairs includes a representative from each of the 14 municipalities (including Adams, Cheshire, New Ashford, North Adams, Peru and Windsor in Berkshire County) who have signed on to the partnership, the USDA and 14 state and local organizations, including the BRPC, Lever Inc., the Hoosic River Watershed Association and the University of Massachusetts' Department of Public Health and Health Sciences.
That makes 28 members of the board total, plus the potential of seven more if towns like Clarksburg, Florida and Savoy choose to join the partnership at a later date.
Getting a quorum of that group together would be a daunting task for any chair. Art said fortunately the plan is to get the full board together just two to four times a year, starting with the partnership's first annual meeting, set for June 2.
"A lot of the work of the board will be done by subcommittees of probably five people drawn from a good representation of the municipal representatives and other kinds of expertise on the board," Art said. "We'll have some standing committees and subcommittees that are looking at specific issues that will do work in between the meetings of the entire board."
The partnership also will have a full-time administrator, who Art hopes to have on board by the first of July.
A lot of the group's infrastructure — like electing a full executive committee and finding a location for the administrator's office — remains to be determined. But at its most recent meeting, the board still was working without a budget, which will be determined by action in Boston and Washington, D.C.
Identifying the administrator will be a major step.
"It's something we want to move on in the next five months, having someone who can fill that role," Art said. "There is a considerable amount of work to be done, and I don't think you can expect an all-volunteer board to devote the time and energy to do all that."
One thing Art was clear on: the MTWP board has a clear purpose in mind. It wants to support forest conservation while fostering sustainable economic development in the region.
The economic development piece generated some concerns among a number of residents in Williamstown, one of the last municipalities to join the partnership. One thing that appeared to grease the skids for that decision was the commitment by Art, an emeritus professor of environmental studies at Williams College, to serve on the MTWP board.
He noted last week that while early discussions of the MTWP included suggestions that wood chip and biomass production could be part of the economic development strategy, the enabling legislation prohibited MTWP funds from supporting biomass or wood pellet facilities.
And he said it is more important than ever that healthy, sustainable forests be protected.
"In terms of forest management, we are entering a new situation in which it's clear forests have a role to play in mitigating climate change," Art said. "They will never be the complete answer because we need to do something on the production of greenhouse gasses, and forests can only do so much.
"I think [the partnership] is … a significant step forward and could serve as a model for a new kind of relationship aimed at natural resource stewardship and economic development that is quite unique."

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Williamstown Watching Washington, Not Yet Fretting Impact on ARPA Funds

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town manager Friday was cautiously optimistic that a potential debt ceiling deal in Washington, D.C., that includes "claw back" provisions on American Rescue Plan Act funds would not impact the town's ability to utilize the remainder of $2.2 million in pandemic-related federal relief.
"I'm not especially concerned," Robert Menicocci said. "I always put an asterisk beside something like that when we talk about anything legislative. You never know until it's in ink, when it's signed by everyone — whether local, state or federal legislation."
The $350 billion ARPA passed in 2021 included funding for state and local governments. Williamstown's share works out to $2,222,073, according to the commonwealth's website.
A good deal of that money is already "out the door," spent on both direct COVID 19-related expenses and other items approved by the Select Board over the last couple of years.
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