Pittsfield Panel OKs Free Cash for Airport Easement Acquisition Project

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council's finance subcommittee last week approved an appropriation of about $162,000 from free cash toward the Pittsfield Municipal Airport's highest priority project.

The funds will be used for consultant work from Gale Associates to remove safety hazards on non-city-owned property around the airport. Obstructions — mostly trees — need to be cut from the defined approach areas extending outward from the airport's runways,  according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Avigation easements will be acquired over four privately-owned parcels for the project.

Under FAA requirements, planning and engineering consultants are required.

"This request is to provide the airport with temporary funding to get us through the easement process," Airport Manager Dan Shearer explained.

"Because, unlike most grants where you get a grant in advance, the FAA requires that we have titles in hand ... can't have titles on hand until you do the appraisals and go through the negotiation process."

While the city is supplying $162,400 for easement preparations, it will receive 95 percent back in federal and state reimbursements, making the allocation more of a loan. The FAA will reimburse 90 percent of the cost and the state Department of Transportation's Aeronautics Division will reimburse another 5 percent.

"The reimbursement funds come from the Non-Primary Entitlement (NPE) funds available to the airport as part of its role in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS,)"  Shearer wrote to Mayor Linda Tyer in a December letter requesting the funds.

"These NPE funds have already been allocated to the airport to reimburse qualifying projects like this."

The total cost of the project is $604,000 and also includes three other phases: an environmental assessment, easement acquisition, and obstruction removal.

Of that total, the city is responsible for about $27,000 for the whole project and about $8,000 for the easement acquisition prep. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, funding covers both the local portion and the state portion of equal value for the fiscal year 2021.

With all four project parts combined, the city's rate is slightly lower because there was no local share cost for the environmental assessment that was covered by the CARES Act.

This was done automatically at the federal level and does not affect other CARES funding the city has received.

Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick was the only vote in opposition. He said he is wary about using free cash and would like to have the assurance that it will be replaced.

Finance Director Matthew Kerwood said that given everything that is going on within the operational side of the city budget, $162,000 could not be carved out of a contingency account or other account.

"This is exactly the type of expenditure that should come out of free cash," he said, reiterating that the money will be reimbursed.

The only other option would be to ask for a bond authorization, which Kerwood said would not be financially prudent.

Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky expressed concerns about the use of consultants for the acquisition. Because the city does not have an employee who does appraisal services and due to FAA standards, the committee was assured that consultants are necessary.

Councilor at Large Earl Persip III agreed with Kerwood, stating that this is a fitting use for free cash.

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BEAT: Conserving Flowers and their Pollinators

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Joan Edwards will speak at the May Pittsfield Green Drinks event on Tuesday, May 17th at 6:00 PM and give a slideshow presentation about the rapidly decreasing biodiversity that is taking place globally, known as the sixth extinction. 
She will specifically focus on flowers and their insect visitors. 
This sixth extinction is primarily driven by human actions, from habitat loss to climate change. The impacts of biodiversity loss are far-reaching, resulting in biological communities that are less resilient and with diminished ecosystems services. As part of the discussion, Joan will explore the impact of biodiversity loss in the pollinator-flower world and examine how the surprising dynamics of flower-pollinator networks can help to conserve both flowers and their pollinators.
Joan Edwards is a botanist interested in understanding the biomechanics and adaptive significance of ultra-fast plant movements—plant actions that are so quick they occur in milliseconds. Using high-speed video (up to 100,000 fps), she studies the evolutionary significance and biomechanics of fast movements, including the trebuchet catapults of bunchberry dogwood, the vortex rings of Sphagnum moss, the splash cups of liverworts, and the "poppers" of wood sorrel. Her early fieldwork was on the impact of moose on plants in the boreal forests of Isle Royale National Park. 
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