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One of Williamstown's current high-pressure sodium streetlights that officials hope to switch to LED.

Williamstown Takes Big Step Toward Replacing Streetlights

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A years-long effort to replace the town's streetlights with more efficient LED fixtures may be resolved as soon as June's annual town meeting.
 
The Select Board on Monday approved an intermunicipal agreement to transfer authority over the street lights from the Williamstown Fire District to Town Hall.
 
Once the Prudential Committee, as expected, gives the agreement its blessing, the way will be clear for the town to purchase the existing lights from National Grid, which has offered to sell the used lights for $1.
 
At that point, the town will have responsibility for maintenance of the lights, Town Manager Jason Hoch explained to the Select Board. But it can obtain a yearly maintenance contract for $15,000 per year, far less than the $58,000 per year maintenance fee charged to the Fire District by National Grid.
 
The town hopes this spring to conduct a pilot program to test light fixtures from several manufacturers at sites around town to see which is preferred by residents. And at town meeting, voters will be asked to approve a $244,000 transfer from the town's stabilization fund to replace the 553 high-pressure sodium streetlights currently in use.
 
Between the lower cost maintenance contract and the reduced electricity required by light-emitting diode fixtures, the town anticipates annual savings of about $60,000, Hoch and members of the town's Carbon Dioxide Lowering (COOL) Committee told the Select Board.
 
Hoch said the payback period for an investment in the new lights is 3 1/2 years. At that point, the $60,000 in annual savings could be used to replenish the stabilization account and, ultimately, offset other areas of the town budget.
 
"We want to thank [Fire District Treasurer] Cory Thurston because he's been helpful providing all the numbers to ensure this is a good fiscal decision," the COOL Committee's Nancy Nylen said. "Stephanie [Boyd] and I had conversations with other communities. We wanted to make sure this is as good as it sounds. We were reassured by other communities that the maintenance contract works smoothly."
 
Nylen and the grassroots environmental group have been advocating for LED street lights for years, largely because of their energy efficiency and lower contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.
 
Two years ago, the Prudential Committee, which oversees the Fire District, had an agreement with National Grid to swap out the current HPS streetlights with LED fixtures. But many in the community raised concerns about the color temperature of the LEDs that National Grid planned to install, and the Prudential Committee opted to pull out of the plan and forgo the cost savings it would have generated.
 
The town and COOL Committee have since been working with the Fire District to find an alternative, going so far as to commission San Francisco-based Tanko Lighting for a lighting audit that informed the plan presented on Monday night.
 
In September 2019, the project's advocates also hosted a listening session to gauge community support for the new lighting.
 
"We felt very good after it that people were supportive," Nylen said. "They said, ‘Yes, we need more efficient lights.' And they wanted to make sure that their concerns about safety were kept front and center, and that's definitely something we're all concerned about. We want to make sure that where we need good, high quality lighting, like along the Route 2 corridor, it's nice, bright light, but in the quiet rural streets, maybe we can have a lower light.
 
"People expressed their concerns and overwhelmingly wanted to have this warmer light. ... And also, the idea of spillover light. People wanted to make sure light was concentrated where we need it. They don't want it shining in their bedroom window or lighting the beautiful, dark skies that we so appreciate in Williamstown."
 
The Select Board approved the intermunicipal agreement by a 5-0 vote.
 
The board also unanimously OK'd a malt and wine package store license for Williamstown native Peter McGillivray, who is moving back to town to open a wine and cheese store at the corner of Main Street (Route 2) and Water Street (Route 43), the former location of Hops and Vines.
 
McGillivray sought and received the only town license available under the cap set by the commonwealth's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. That license came available when the proprietors of the Store at Five Corners recently opted not to renew for 2021.
 
In answer to a question from Jeffrey Thomas, Hoch confirmed that the South Williamstown store's nonrenewal was not an oversight on its part and that the town had reached out to the business.
 
McGillivray said he spent the last years managing and hosting international events and is looking forward to the chance to return to his hometown.
 
"The Water Street property is one I'm connected to," he said during the virtual public hearing. "I remember going there when it was a luncheonette. I'm familiar with that neighborhood.
 
"As I was exploring options, a fine wine and cheese shop was something that was appealing to me. Formaggio Kitchen in my neighborhood in Boston is something I hope to duplicate in Williamstown."
 
In other business on Monday, the Select Board heard an update from Council on Aging Director Brian O'Grady about COVID-19 vaccinations for town residents.
 
O'Grady said his agency and COAs around Berkshire County have been helping residents 75 and older who are eligible for vaccination but who have trouble with the online registration process to make appointments.
 
O'Grady praised the efficiency of the vaccination clinic set up at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in North Adams.
 
"What's been happening is clinics fill up quickly," he said. "At one point last week, we had 80 people waiting for openings. By the middle of last week, they opened a bunch of new spots and we started calling people on the waiting list. … By Thursday evening, we'd eradicated the waiting list and found spots for everybody.
 
"It's worked out really well as far as the registration process. The clinics themselves are very well organized."

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Williamstown Trust OKs Emergency Mortgage Program; O'Connor Won't Seek Re-Election

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust on Wednesday decided to move ahead with an emergency mortgage assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, approved a solution for a problem vexing a different town committee and learned that one of its members will be rotating off after May's town election.
 
The board member in question is Anne O'Connor, who made her colleagues on that panel the first to learn that she will not seek another three-year term on the Select Board this spring.
 
O'Connor, who occupies the trustee position designated for a member of the Select Board, noted that she brings a particular perspective to her work with the trust and all her town service: that of a resident who is a lifelong renter and who lives in Williamstown housing that was created to be affordable.
 
"Hopefully, I've also brought some reflections and useful comments as much as possible," O'Connor said.
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