PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials expect the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail extension project will likely take place in 2021 instead of 2020.
The City Council authorized the taking of five temporary construction easements by eminent domain for the rail trail extension on Crane Avenue Tuesday however Parks and Open Spaces Manager James McGrath said that with COVID-19 running rampant, this project may be delayed.
"More realistically this may be a 2021 project given the recent circumstance that we are all facing," McGrath said.
Construction was originally slated to begin in the fall of 2020; the state could go out to bid after the easements were obtained.
He did add that the easements may be for five years but this is just a boiler plate number used. Really the project would take about a year from start to finish.
"It certainly won't take that long once the project gets going to complete it," he said.
These parcels include portions of land located at 875, 891, 901, 891, and 898 Crane Ave.
In other business on Tuesday, the City Council accepted an order from the mayor to transfer and appropriate $154,000 from Retained Earnings-Sewer to the Department of Public Utilities Sewer Division.
This can be broken down into $9,000 for a Water/Sewer Maintenance Person, $25,000 for Scheduled Overtime, $40,000 for Maintenance, and $80,000 for the acquisition of equipment.
This action did draw some questions from the council and Ward 4 Councilor Christoper Connell first asked what equipment the city planned to purchase.
Public Services Commissioner Ricardo Morales said the $80,000 is needed to fill out the budget and noted the city already expended the funds to purchase video equipment needed to service pipes, sewer lines, leaks, and other utility issues throughout the city.
He said it was purchased in September by the former commissioner.
This concerned Connell.
"My issue here is with how the process was done," he said. "It's backwards."
Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said when the city purchased the equipment it was able to adjust the budget and pay for it within the parameters of the budget. He said it was only after a series of emergency breaks this winter that caused them to run down different line items.
"Every year is a little bit different and we did not anticipate the level of breakage," Kerwood said. "It was above and beyond what was anticipated within the budget."
Morales added that the equipment ultimately will save the city money because it will no longer have to contract out the service.
After waving Rule 27 to approve the allocation, the City Council voted. Only Connell and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi voted in opposition.
• The City Council accepted a $25,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and another $25,000 grant from the Berkshire United Way both to assist in the city's emergency response actions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
• The City Council accepted a donation of seven prize baskets for the Eggstravaganza Egg Scramble as well as cash sponsorship valued at $2,050 for various city events.
Connell noted that with the pandemic it is likely the majority of these events will be canceled.
"I want to thank Greylock Federal for doing this but all of these events are probably not going to happen given our current state of affairs," he said. "We don't know how long this is going to be."
McGrath said the funds would be rolled into a donations account and can be used in the future.
• The City Council accepted a $330,225.33 grant from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security for the FY20 Senator Charles E. Shannon Jr. Community Safety initiative for the Police Department.
"Yes this is an increase from last year," Police Chief Michael Wynn said. "There is no city match to fund and all the matches are in kind and all of the matches are provided by 18 degrees."
• City Council accepted a grant of $210,000 from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs for the Mill Street Dam project.
• The City Council accepted a grant of $60,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Rail and Transit Division. This will go toward the development of the Berkshire County BikeShare Feasibility Study.
• TheCity Council accepted a $15,000 grant from Berkshire Gas Company and Eversource Energy.
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Invasive Spotted Lanternfly Found in Worcester County
FITCHBURG, Mass. — The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) announced Tuesday that a small population of the invasive spotted lanternfly has been found in the City of Fitchburg, close to where a lanternfly nymph was reported earlier this summer.
Agricultural inspectors are in the middle of performing surveys in the area, but currently the infestation is limited to a single cluster of three trees. While MDAR has not been able to determine the origin of the infestation, spotted lanternflies have been known to travel out of infested states on cars, trucks, and trains, during shipments of produce, sheds, and gazebos, trees and shrubs for landscaping, and many other items that are regularly sent from states with known infestations.
As a result of this new find, MDAR is urging the public to be on the lookout for the pest, especially residents that live or work in the Fitchburg area. Spotted lanternflies may be found on sides of buildings, in or on vehicles, and on their preferred host plants: tree of heaven, grape vines, and maple and walnut trees. Anyone who has recently received goods or materials from states where SLF is known to have been introduced (including Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia) should also be on the lookout.
"The spotted lanternfly can have devastating impacts on Massachusetts' agricultural industry, including on a number of farms and orchards in this part of the state that we want to protect from this pest," said MDAR Commissioner John Lebeaux. "Early detection and reporting is the best way to slow the spread of spotted lanternfly. Members of the public, particularly those in the Fitchburg area, have seen this pest, they are asked to report it as soon as possible."
The TIE agreement, which is the residential version of tax increment financing, will save developer CT Management around $55,000 in residential taxes and will bring in about $65,000 into the city.
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The city unveiled its first dog park at Burbank Park this past week after nearly two decades of planning. Officials say there has been a positive community response from both four-legged and two-legged residents. click for more
City Clerk Michelle Benjamin drew names for ballot positions in the 2021 municipal election on Thursday. The names were randomized in a tumbler that has reportedly been used by the city for many years.
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