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Williamstown's Net Zero Effort to Be Subject of Panel Discussion

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board took a pause Monday from talking about local crises to discuss a global crisis.
Included on the warrant for June's annual meeting is a resolution calling on the town to commit to pursuing a net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal.
Members of the town's Carbon Dioxide Lowering (COOL) Committee, which drafted the resolution, first presented the idea to the board last month. On Monday, the Select Board discussed the proposal during a review of the warrant's first draft. And next week, the whole town is invited to a virtual panel discussion on the initiative with state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield.
"This basically says that Williamstown should pursue a net zero goal consistent with the limits established by the commonwealth," Town Manager Jason Hoch advised the board. "The intent here is to actually do the local plan rather than having something foisted on us by the state.
"This article is not binding us to local targets. It's simply saying, 'Start working on your local plan of approach to meet state standards.' "
The link between state standards and local action raised a concern for Andrew Hogeland, who noted that the town has no control over the targets that come from Boston.
"This ties us to a state policy, state law, which I think people like the version that's in effect today," Hogeland said. "But they might not like the one in effect two years from now.
"I would have people consider redrafting this so it's independent of state policies and not bound to them. They may change, and we may not like the changes. … People would not have liked this [state] plan two years ago. They may not like it two years from now. I'd like us to stay independent."
Wendy Penner of the COOL Committee said the focus of the resolution is on the town making a commitment to forming a comprehensive climate action plan by 2023 that is informed by but not dictated by Beacon Hill.
"It is true that the state is going to come up with the road map to get to net zero," Penner said. "And that should inform us. But I think we should be leading the way, as we have in the past."
Penner said the COOL Committee could think about revising the warrant article to address Hogeland's concern — either by gathering signatures on a new petition or by bringing an amendment to the floor of the meeting.
Hoch said he appreciated the resolution's approach of getting ahead of the commonwealth's efforts to direct greenhouse gas policy statewide.
"By the time the state gets there, the solutions end up being hard, regulatory targets that are the burdensome pieces," Hoch said. "The appeal of getting ahead of it locally was actually to be able to identify some of those areas, identify where there are cost and equity issues — and, being ahead of the state regulatory framework, to be more thoughtful about it."
Jeffrey Thomas raised equity issues by noting that the costs of "greener" practices sometimes can be prohibitive. He expressed a concern that the town, by requiring climate initiatives in construction, might make the community even more exclusive at a time when its existing exclusivity already troubles many residents.
"I'm not suggesting I don't agree with climate change goals," Thomas said. "I'm as concerned about climate change as anyone. Yet, in the balance of things, sometimes, I think affordability in the community is an important thing to consider.
"[I]nvestment in renewable energy, for example, tends to be for people who have disposable income. It's easier to afford a solar array, it's easier to realize those long-term savings, if you have money upfront to do that solar install. … I just wonder how that relates to affordability. I don't have all the answers. They're complicated questions. I just think it's important to be mindful."
Penner said she agreed with Thomas' concerns about exclusivity "100 percent." And she noted that utility companies have programs that help lower income residents acquire solar arrays and electric heating elements for their homes.
The action clause of the COOL Committee's resolution requires that, "our climate actions recognize the needs of vulnerable members of our community and are inclusive and equitable."
Penner echoed that sentiment.
"I agree that's something we absolutely have to be mindful of," she said. "I think some states are doing a fantastic job with making this technology available to all households. That's very important, so the disproportionate burden of this transition away from fossil fuels is not falling on our most vulnerable folks."
Anne O'Connor noted that the COOL Committee and Williams College's Zhilka Center will host a panel discussion on the net zero proposal on Tuesday, April 20, at 7 p.m.
"It should be a good way to learn more about what the resolution would meet," O'Connor said.
Fewer questions Monday attended the Select Board's annual Arbor Day proclamation, which Chair Jane Patton read into the record.
O'Connor said the acknowledgment of the April 30 holiday is more than a formality.
"The trees along Main Street — emerald ash borer is very much here," O'Connor said. "A number of ash trees were taken down in the fall. We inevitably will see the remainder be rapidly sickened and need to be removed in the next five years.
"The amount of urban canopy, in my experience, over the years has dramatically declined, all along Main Street, all across the Williams College campus, along many residential streets. We must take action."
And O'Connor on Monday issued a call to action on another front, inviting residents to participate in a townwide litter cleanup event on Saturday, April 17. There will be two stations set up — one at Field Park across from the library and another in South Williamstown at Bloedel Park — to pick up bags that can be filled with trash and returned for disposal by the town.
"It can be safe for families because a family can work at playgrounds or school grounds, parks," O'Connor said. "It doesn't have to be along the road side."
The event's rain date will be Saturday, April 24.

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Hoosac Water Quality District Facing Prospect of Losing Compost Operation

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — North Adams and Williamstown could be facing considerably higher sewer fees in the near future if the commonwealth ends a 40-year-old composting program.
Hoosac Water Quality District Chief Operator Brad Furlon broke the news to the Williamtown Finance Committee in his presentation of the district's fiscal year 2024 spending plan.
"There's always been revenues for septage fees and compost fees," Furlon said on Wednesday. "The district was the first facility in the commonwealth to start composting in the early 1980s. … Well, that looks like it's coming to an end.
"Because of the emerging contaminants — PFOA, which we're dealing with with our water, and PFOS — more than likely the district is not going to be able to continue to compost after the end of 2023."
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