Pittsfield Kayak Kiosk Proposal Triggers Concern

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Caryn Wendling addresses the council, concerned how a kayak rental will affect her Onota Boat Livery business.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A proposed kayak rental kiosk at Onota Lake has triggered concern from city councilors and community members.

The City Council on Tuesday referred a petition from residents Daniel Miraglia and Gene Nadeau requesting a legal opinion on Whenever Watersports' kayak rental program to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta. In December, the Parks Commission granted a request for the pilot program, and the solicitor has been reviewing and revising a proposed contract that has not yet been approved.

Miraglia expressed concerns about the lack of a bidding process, safety hazards, and the impact on a local business that rents kayaks on the lake.

"Why didn't Whenever Watersports appear at this meeting? Why are they allowed to generate a profit in a public park?" he said.

"The Parks Commission meeting when this vote happened, there was no discussion. There was no discussion about liability. There was no discussion about this is a first-responder nightmare."

Onota Boat Livery owner Caryn Wendling was upset to hear that an out-of-town company would be allowed to operate the kiosk on the same lake as her business and also cited safety concerns. She said the boat livery has been in the city for more than 60 years, in her family for 35, and kayak rentals are a "very large" part of the business.

"The city of Pittsfield is always looking for ways to encourage and help small businesses. By allowing this kiosk rental, you are not helping a long-standing small business that has been a part of this community for years. You are hurting us," she said.

"Rentals are one of our main sources of income during the summer months. To allow the out-of-town company what our long-standing business already does offer is wrong and I feel it sends the message that the city of Pittsfield isn't supporting our small business and doesn't care if we are successful."

She added that the livery regularly deals with folks who have little to no experience kayaking and gives instructions on how to properly paddle the boats, fit life jackets, launch the boats, and provide assistance if needed.

"The city is putting the renters from this kiosk in the potential for danger if they allow this kiosk to operate," Wendling said.

Councilor at Large Alisa Costa understands the businesses' concerns but the city "can't get in the way of competition." What it can do, she said, is look at the contracting process of such proposals.

At the late 2023 Parks Commission meeting, Recreation and Special Events Coordinator Maddy Brown reported that a Connecticut branch of the company came to the city looking to establish a kiosk with no startup costs, which would also mean that there are no revenue shares.

Liability is signed away through a waiver on the rental app and the contract would be for a yearlong trial period with the possibility to have a revenue split in a future contract.  

"You go, you scan the QR code, download the app, click the link, sign up for a half hour, hour, the whole day," Brown explained to the commission. "And then the locker opens and you get a life jacket and the equipment you sign the waiver online."

Brown reported that the company has 35 locations in 10 countries and has received great reviews.

The city filed a request for determination for the kiosk at Burbank Park located within the buffer zone associated with the inland bank and it is on the Conservation Commission agenda for Thursday.

Councilors asked that City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta look into items such as the commission's authority with entering into contracts and if a bidding process would be needed for this.

The solicitor reported that there is no safety language in the current proposed contract, as users sign a waiver.

"My concern is the same as the rest of us," Ward 4 Councilor James Conant said. "I don't think it's a safe idea. I don't think we should be using an app on the phone to rent the kayaks and just going off on the lake."

Ward 1 Councilor Kenneth Warren asked his colleagues to realize that they are a legislative body and can regulate many things and could create ordinances that put parameters on these types of contracts.

"It's sort of gray so when it's gray it never ends up at the City Council and sometimes we have concerns as we're hearing tonight," he said.

According to the company website, Whenever Watersports partners with cities, parks, waterfront businesses, and other organizations to "help improve access to outdoor recreation in their communities." All renters must agree to a "comprehensive waiver" before using the equipment and this is said to release the company and any partners from all liability.

"Our general liability insurance policy also automatically covers all organizations we enter into agreements with. Organizations can be added as additional named insureds on the policy upon request," the website states.

In other news, the council approved a petition from William Garrity requesting to reactivate the city's Youth Commission. As outlined in the city code, its purpose is to provide an ongoing forum for communication between city government and local youth.

‘The Youth Commission will allow the city's youth to have a voice in the city. The voices of our youth are important as we continue to build a Pittsfield that we all can enjoy and create more recreational opportunities for youth in the city," Garrity said.

"Additionally, the Youth Commission will allow the city's youth to get involved into municipal governance and to hopefully stay involved even after their time on the Youth Commission. Apparently, there is an increasing shortage of people willing to participate in municipal government."

He pointed out that School Committee seats went uncontested in last year's election along with several ward races and that other surrounding communities are having issues getting candidates on the ballot and serving in town offices.

"The Youth Commission can be one possible way to attract our current youth into government and to give them the experience needed to stay involved in government if they so choose," he added.

Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey thanked Garrity for his petition, adding that "Young people need to get involved in government."

Tags: boating,   kiosk,   onota,   

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Lanesborough Has Hot, Quiet Election Day

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Voting was slow but steady at Lanesborough Town Hall.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The town had a steady and sweltering election day that saw Deborah Maynard elected to the Select Board. 
Maynard outpolled Joseph Trybus 181-87 to fill the seat left vacant by longtime board member John Goerlach.
About halfway through polling hours, about 150 people had turned out in the 90-degree weather to cast votes for the Select Board, Finance Committee, Planning Board, library trustee, and town moderator. In total, about 400 votes were cast out of the 2,515 registered voters, or about 16 percent.
"It's been kind of slow but steady," poll worker Sheila Parks said. "No exciting news, which is good."
Town Clerk Ruth Knysh guessed that many would vote after work. Polls opened at noon at Town Hall and closed at 8 p.m.
"It's going great. It's been steady since we opened the doors at noontime. No issues at all," she said. "So we're hoping for smooth sailing until eight o'clock tonight."
Earlier in the day, there was road construction in front of the town offices that could have been a deterrent, she observed.
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