Friday, July 11, 2008

Journalists: "Open the Freezer"

Photo: Howard Schneider, Dean of the Journalism Department at Stony Brook University in New York and former reporter and managing editor with Newsday.

The New England News Forum

Photo: Doug McGill, Journalism professor at Carleton College, former New York Times staff reporter and International Bureau Chief with Bloomberg News

The Community Radio Hour recently attended a one-day workshop sponsored by the New England News Forum. "Sharing the News: Fresh Approaches to Reaching Students and Training Citizens" was held at UMass Lowell on June 28. The NENF is headed by Bill Densmore, a professor of journalism at UMass and the project director/editor of the Media Giraffe project.

I was captivated by the words of two of the speakers, both veteran journalists who have moved into academia: Minnesota-based Doug McGill, formerly with the New York Times and Bloomberg, and Howard Schneider, who did his time at Newsday before founding the journalism school at Stony Brook University in New York.

McGill encourages reporters to "Welcome Xenia" and to "Talk to Strangers," while Schneider insists that his students "Open the Freezer"--referring to the story of a New Orleans Times-Picyune reporter who failed to verify second-hand information about dead bodies with his own eyes.

Thanks to Bill Densmore, who agreed to let me record this event, and thanks to blogger Tish Grier who encouraged me to attend.

howieschneider (#01).mp3

dougmcgill2 (#01).mp3

dougmcgill (#01).mp3

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lawyers to the ZBA: Yadda Yadda

It was not for the faint of heart. For a full three and a half hours on June 26, lawyers representing the Northampton Department of Public Works, Ameresco Energy Services Company, and a group of 42 Appellants addressed the Zoning Board of Appeals.
(First Photo: Thomas Mackie for the DPW)

The issue? Building Commissioner Tony Patillo has denied a request for code enforcement from the appellants, represented by Boston lawyer Peter Koff, who maintain that the regional landfill on Glendale Road is operating without proper permitting. The appellants wish the ZBA to overturn Patillo's ruling.
(Second Photo: Peter Koff for the Appellants)

The DPW, represented by Thomas Mackie, and Ameresco, represented by Arthur Krieger, disagree. (Ameresco operates the gas-to-energy facility at the landfill.) For a good overview, read Fred Contrada's article here.
(Third Photo: Arthur Kreiger for Ameresco; Huntley and Laurila from the DPW)
For a definition of the Laches defense, used by Atty. Mackie, check this out.
(Fourth Photo: City Soliicitor Janet Shepard)

As many of you know, the policy wonk community in Northampton can always count upon the large, well-paid staff at the Community Radio Hour to show up with a microphone, a stand, an xlr-to-5mm cable, and a digital recording device when the situation really calls for it. Here are some highlights from this compelling event, as broadcast on the CRH.

If anyone is super-interested, let it be known that I have a recording of the entire event. I'll burn you a series of CDs. Some people actually like this kinda stuff.











Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kollmorgen Trumps Master Plan

When I invited independent journalists Mike Kirby and Mark Roessler to the radio studio to talk about their objections to the siting of Kollmorgen Electro-Optical on so-called Village Hill (the old Northampton State Hospital site), and the concomitant change in the Village Hill master plan that was approved to expedite moving the plant from its cramped King Street location, part of me wondered: is it reasonable, in such difficult economic times, to protest such an accommodation? Listen to the Radio Show Here:

The original plan, developed by the well-known "new urbanist" Peter Calthorpe's design team in California, showed a complex, permeable, village-like, and human-scale development. The new master plan, approved unanimously on May 22 by the Northampton State Hospital Citizen's Advisory Committee for Village Hill (The "CAC") portrays quite a different concept: a big-box defense manufacturer with a 450-car parking lot, surrounded by a fence. A prime piece of Northampton real estate, with river and mountain views, which many had hoped would host a community of small businesses, had sadly succumbed to realpolitik--but, maybe, as the CAC members seemed to concede with their vote to change the plan, there was no other way.

Was the original plan pie-in-the-sky?

Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins, who is the chair of the CAC, has explained that Kollmorgen, a defense contractor, would have left Northampton without this accommodation, taking 330 jobs and almost half a million dollars in tax revenue. It has been very difficult to market the mixed-use commercial development on the hill as planned, she explained, and it is time to become pragmatic and not miss out on the opportunity to retain an important employer. There has been enormous support for this venture from the business community and boosterism from the traditional press: The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton's local daily, printed this glowing and uncritical editorial: In Our Opinion: A Boost for Northampton.

Yet dreams die hard. What happened to the new, mixed-use town center that was promised?

I have been wondering: Why doesn't Kollmorgen want to stay at King Street, and expand to the Hill and Dale Mall? Why, if Kollmorgen deemed the Hill untenable a couple of years ago, have they changed their mind? Did the marketing for the village concept not yield any real results? Why? Is it just the economy, or a failure of commitment and imagination? Is the CAC abandoning its charge by not defending the master plan, and insisting upon holding out, despite pressure from City Hall? Do we have to bend over backwards for Kollmorgen, or can we extract some leverage to ensure that the resultant design is good? And, if plans in Northampton are so easily abandoned, why even plan at all? Does this bode well for the Sustainable Northampton Plan?

Other Links:

Chad Cain, business reporter for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, has been following this issue, and reports the facts in a comprehensive manner: (The first link is from the Google cache, and does not require a subscription.)

Fred Contrada reported on the CAC vote in The Republican:

Northampton board OKs Kollmorgen at Village Hill

Mike Kirby has written about Bay State Machine, a small manufacturer, and its failed attempt to move to "Village Hill."

The Change in Plan must be approved by the EOEA--The Executive Office of Environmental Affairs--through the so-called MEPA process. As such, an opportunity exists for citizens to submit comment on the change. Here is the link to the "Notice of Project Change."

Comments may be submitted electronically, by mail, via FAX, or by hand
delivery. Please note that comments submitted on MEPA documents are public
records. The mailing address for comments, due by July 1, is:

Secretary Ian A. Bowles
EOEA, Attn: MEPA Office
William Gage, EOEA No. 12629
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

Main Phone: (617) 626-1000, William Gage: (617) 626-1025
Main Fax: (617) 626-1181

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dishing with Blogger Daryl LaFleur

Daryl LaFleur

The Zoning Board of Appeals and the landfill lawsuit, regional waste management alternatives, Citizens United for a Healthy Future and sixties-activist Saul Alinsky, "Poisoning the Well"--should officials attempt to discredit citizens with whom they disagree?

kudos to independent journalists; happy father's day
the zba and the regional landfill, creative thinking about regional waste

planning board member "poisons the well"
Notre Dame Charrette

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Landfill Waiver: Science or Politics?

The Northampton Department of Public Works is seeking to significantly expand its 39-acre regional landfill, located off Glendale Road. The plan--known as Phase 5/Phase 5B-- would add approximately 20 acres to the north, and another 10 acres piggybacked on the side slopes of the current site. The expansion is designed to add another 20 years to the lifespan of the facility, based upon a fill rate of 50,000 tons per year. If the City of Northampton does nothing, the current site will reach capacity in 2-3 years.

DPW Chief Ned Huntley and City Engineer Jim Laurila at a recent Board of Public Works meeting

The landfill has been in operation since 1969. The original unlined landfill covers a 21-acre area, which stopped accepting waste in 1990 and was capped in 1995. Just to the east of the unlined landfill are four lined cells, referred to as Phases 1-4.

An opposition group called "Citizens United for a Healthy Future" (click here for an audio interview with Jo-Anne Besette and Linda Heisiger of Citizens United) maintains a website at While Citizens United point to problems that they see with the current landfill, such as odor, noise, and the pollution of the Hannum Brook, a tributary of the Manhan River that borders the landfill property, their primary focus is on stopping the proposed landfill expansion.

A Zone II aquifer recharge area is defined as "that area of an aquifer that contributes water to a well under the most severe pumping conditions that can be reasonably anticipated."

In 1999 the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determined that the Glendale Road landfill is indeed situated over the Zone II area for the Maloney Well, a backup drinking water supply for the neighboring city of Easthampton. In order to proceed with the Phase 5/Phase 5B expansion, the City of Northampton applied for--and, in 2006, was granted--a waiver of the DEP's siting criteria that prohibit landfill development within Zone II areas.

Citizens United argues that the expansion should not go forward, and that the DEP should not have granted this waiver. Their members have spoken at numerous city council meetings with the message that landfill liners will inevitably leak, and in an era of dwindling water resources, we should be uncompromising in protecting of what we have. Massachusetts state environmental regulations prohibit siting landfills over Zone II areas. Why was the waiver granted? In private conversations, citizens from the Glendale Road neighborhood have wondered if the DEP's decision was based upon politics instead of science.

The Contaminant Transport Model: A Key Document

The contaminant transport model commissioned by the City was an important part of Northampton's application to the DEP for a positive site suitability report. Laurila explained to me that the model was designed using extremely conservative parameters--for example, it assumed a poorly constructed single composite liner, when in fact, the design calls for a carefully-constructed double composite liner with a 12-inch leak detection zone. Four compounds--zinc, manganese, methylene chloride, and a theoretical, non-reactive, non-adsorptive compound--were modeled at concentrations much higher than those present in Northampton leachate. (The theoretical compound was included to estimate dilution effects, and to determine how a fast-moving compound that is neither impeded by soils nor chemical transformation will travel through the aquifer, hence contributing, according to Laurila and Huntley, to the model's conservative assumptions.)

A "catastrophic release" of leachate was posited, and combined with the assumption of chronic liner leakage. The model was run from 50-100 years, and assumed that no capping would be present.

The model, when ran, predicted that even in the case of a catastrophic leachate release at the landfill, there would be no impact on the Maloney Well. "Near total dilution" would occur by the time water from the landfill reached the well. These findings are summarized in a September 2007 DPW memo to the City Council entitled "Background Information--Proposed Landfill Expansion and Maloney Well Aquifer."

The contaminant transport model was prepared by Dufresne-Henry (which became Stantec Engineering) in collaboration with Dr. Peter Shanahan of HydroAnalysis, Inc. The draft contaminant transport model, which can be viewed at the Forbes Library as an appendix to the September 2005 Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), was signed by Mr. Laurila, who worked for Dufresne-Henry and Stantec before taking his position with the City of Northampton.

If the contaminant transport model is valid, this undermines the position of anti-landfill activists who assert that the Maloney Well will be compromised by the expansion. But if the model is weak or flawed, or if inadequate independent review of the model can be demonstrated, then the Maloney Well argument stands strong.

Ned Huntley, Director of the Department of Public Works, points out in the September 2007 DPW memo that the groundwater flow model (upon which the contaminant transport model was based) was developed in collaboration with the DEP, was approved by the DEP, and was independently reviewed by the City of Easthampton, in consultation with SEA Consultants, at the expense of the Northampton DPW. Dufresne-Henry revised the groundwater flow model when SEA and the City of Easthampton provided additional information on the aquifer. According to the memo, Dr. Robert Newton, a Smith College professor and hydrogeologist who sits on the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee (BAPAC), was invited by the DPW to review an early draft of the groundwater flow model, but that "other commitments prevented him from having time to commit to model development."

Huntley and Laurila also note that no comments regarding the draft contaminant transport model were submitted to MEPA during the public comment phase of the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). While Clean Water Action and Toxic Action Center requested copies of the DEIR, neither organization submitted comment.

The groundwater flow model was approved by the DEP in 2005. The final contaminant transport model was approved by the DEP in 2006 as part of the positive Site Suitability Report.

(For Audio/Video of Dr. Robert Newton's objections to the proposed landfill expansion, click here.)

Challenges to the Contaminant Transport Model

In November of 2007, the Easthampton City Council sent a letter to Laurie Burt, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, asking that she reconsider the site selection waiver. The letter references "two other unstudied, unlined landfills" in Easthampton, no longer in use, that "lie over the same aquifer" and maintains that the cumulative effect of leachate from all three sites should be incorporated into the model.

All parties agree that the well is not pristine, and is already marked by borderline-high manganese and iron levels. The Easthampton city council's letter maintains that the transport model assumes a pristine aquifer, and that any addition of iron or manganese would push water quality past the tipping point defined by MMCL (Massachusetts Maximum Contaminant Levels.)

But months earlier, in a June 11, 2007 letter, Easthampton Mayor Michael Tautznik had presented this exact argument, as promulgated by professor Robert Newton, to Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins. Higgins passed the letter on to DPW chief Huntley, who responded that "Dr. Newton's contention that the inclusion of the closed landfills at Oliver Street and Loudville Road would significantly alter the predicted concentrations at the Maloney Well is not valid for two main reasons," and goes on to explain that the Loudville Road Landfill is located over a clay confining layer which isolates it from the aquifer, and that the Oliver Street Landfill is partially isolated by the same clay layer.

Huntley added that even were the two Easthampton landfills deemed to be contributors, that that would not alter the contribution of the Northampton landfill--the contaminant transport model demonstrated "near total attenuation" between the landfill and the well, and the "existence of other potential sources . . . does not alter this basic finding." Huntley invited Tautznik, his staff, and Dr. Newton to meet for further discussion, and expressed willingness to alter the assumptions in the model if presented with useful information. Huntley's letter did not address the assertion that the model falsely assumes pristine conditions at the Maloney Well. Robert Newton did not respond to my request for comment.

Can A Public, Televised Scientists' Debate Be Organized?

Few individuals are truly qualified to judge the validity and veracity of such a specialized scientific model. Laypeople might reasonable ask a number of questions, however. For instance, does the posited catastrophic event--based upon a two-day leak in the force main releasing 154,000 gallons of leachate-- really represent the worst possible scenario? Do the four chemicals chosen accurately represent all potential groundwater threats from the landfill? What about arsenic, for example, which is not present in leachate, but is mobilized from the rocks and soil by anoxic (low dissolved oxygen) water-based solutions, such as leachate? Do we really have enough geological information to accurately model groundwater flow in the Barnes Aquifer at all?

Much of downtown Easthampton is located over the Zone II recharge area for the Maloney Well, and the well itself is already high in iron and manganese, two elements that are also mobilized by anoxic groundwater conditions. Is the City of Northampton, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, making a decision that we, in the interest of providing an important public utility, can risk sacrificing this well, which after all, is not the primary source of water for Easthampton, and which would already require treatment were it to be deployed?

And even if the contaminant transport model were deemed to be valid, is that really the only environmental consideration? What about the pollution of the Hannum Brook, which borders the landfill property--is this pollution attributable only to the old, unlined landfill, or can we expect more of the same from an improved facility? See Fred Contrada's article in The Republican.

And, even if the City's science is irrefutable, is expanding the landfill the best and only option for dealing with our regional solid waste?

Clearly, a debate among qualified scientists is in order. Stay tuned...We'll keep our ear to the ground. Even if the City Council continues to refuse to sponsor debate on this issue, the Board of Public Works may well step up to the plate and work cooperatively with citizens' groups to ensure that all issues have a fair and comprehensive hearing.

The Landfill Expansion: Mayor Higgins and Ned Huntley Speak

On Thursday, May 22, Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins and Department of Public Works Director Ned Huntley stopped by my studio to record an interview about the proposed landfill expansion. I wanted to give them a chance to present their reasons for supporting this project. Listen using the embedded flash player, or download two mp3s using the direct links. This interview will be aired on Sunday, May 31, at 8 p.m. on Valley Free Radio, 103.3 FM. (Sidebar: VFR now has a robust webstream up and running--so you can listen live using iTunes or any other media player on your computer.)

For the record: Here is an interview that Paolo Mastrangelo and I conducted with Citizens United for a Healthy Future, a group which is opposing the landfill expansion. Here is a audio recording of Dr. Robert Newton of the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee expressing his concerns about the project in his address to the Easthampton City Council.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Trim the Fat? What Fat is That?

"Trim the Fat!" How often have we heard these words spoken when conversations arise about funding municipal services? It is difficult not to be sympathetic with this sentiment when we read about former city employees walking away with huge windfalls upon retirement from their accrued sick pay. This loophole has been recently closed--Mayor Higgins has negotiated a $5,500 cap on this benefit with municipal employee unions. But are there more situations like this, that the average citizen is not aware of? Why are we talking about closing an elementary school? Is this just a scare tactic, meant to manipulate people into supporting a tax override?

We recorded a conversation with City Councilor Paul Spector on Thursday afternoon. His position is that we are doing everything possible to conserve, and that the city of Northampton is being put between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we have to comply with unfunded mandates such as "No Child Left Behind," and on the other hand, we are hobbled by declining support from the Commonwealth and by an inability to levy taxes--such as a restaurant meals tax--on the local level. State support for localities has declined over the years, as had Federal support for the states, leaving towns and cities more and more on their own.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mayor's Budget Briefing

Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins has held a series of budget briefings over the past several weeks--one in each ward, sponsored by individual city councilors. Last Wednesday, April 23rd, Ward 2 Councilor Paul Spector (pictured below) hosted the Mayor at the Northampton High School. The bottom line? Schools are being held to a 2% increase, although they say they need 7% to maintain the current level of service. All department heads are being asked to make painful cuts. State aid is down. The employee health insurance contract is going out to bid, after current contractor Blue Cross-Blue Shield proposed a double-digit rate increase.

Is the Mayor going to push for a proposition 2 1/2 override this year? It certainly seems probable.

Listen in for a quick, basic take on the municipal budget.

Mayors Ward 2 Budget Briefing

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Bees of Montview

Northampton resident (and librarian) Adam Novitt is an urban beekeeper. On Friday evening he worked with Paige Bridgens and Lisa DiPiano to "install bees" at Montview Neighborhood Farm, an experimental agriculture project located in the Williams Street neighborhood, just a ten minute walk from downtown. The farm, which leases land from the city, strives to operate without petroleum inputs.

Here Adam talks about the bees, about his three chickens, and about Montview Neighborhood Farm.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Incinerator Technology

"In Sweden, they incinerate their waste, using new, improved technology that produces few emissions."

OK, I've heard this statement made a number of times over the past few months. What's it all about? Could high-tech incineration be part of our regional solid waste solution?

Here are some links:

Here are excerpts from a report in One Day Vancouver: (

"In Sweden, more than 90 per cent of household waste is recycled, reused or recovered. By contrast, Toronto diverts about half of its household garbage from landfill and Ottawa diverts about one-third. Things began to change when the Swedish government made the producers and distributors of goods responsible for the waste they create.

By law, companies are responsible for collecting the entire waste stream stemming from their products, either on their own or through public or private contractors.
Needless to say, there is a strong economic incentive for companies to produce less waste — from products and product packaging — at the outset of manufacturing, rather than deal with it later.

By mixing economic incentives, such as garbage collection fees, with easy access to recycling stations and public awareness campaigns, Sweden has achieved very high recycling rates. In 2004, Swedes recycled 96 per cent of all glass packaging, 95 per cent of metal, 86 per cent of corrugated cardboard and 80 per cent of electronic waste. Waste that cannot be recycled is recovered through other means, often to local economic benefit.

In 2005, Sweden made it illegal to landfill organic waste. Instead, the waste is biologically treated to create compost, biogas and fertilizer. Today, 10 per cent of all household organic waste is treated biologically, a share that is expected to increase dramatically in the near future.

But even reducing, recycling and biological treatment only gets rid of so much. So, like many other European countries, Sweden uses the remaining waste to create energy. Thanks to a well-developed district energy system, household waste is turned into heat and electricity for hundreds of thousands of Swedish homes.

Fifteen years ago, 18 Swedish waste incineration plants emitted a total of about 100 grams of dioxins every year. Today, the collective dioxin emissions from all 29 Swedish waste incineration plants amounts to 0.7 of a gram ... quite an improvement. At the same time, these plants have more than doubled the amount of energy produced in 1985.

Using waste instead of fossil fuels to power district energy systems has also lowered Sweden's greenhouse gas emissions, which are three times lower per capita than in Canada.

But even without all of these environmental benefits, waste incineration makes good business sense. The Sävenäs waste-to-energy plant, located just 200 metres from the nearest residential area, is a case in point.

The plant incinerates about 460,000 tonnes of waste every year to produce heat and electricity, power that is sold to Sweden's deregulated electricity market. The facility cost $286 million to build and, with annual revenues of between $36 million and $70 million, the plant will pay for itself in less than 10 years."

Geologist Robert Newton: Landfill Leachate & the Maloney Well

Geologist (and Smith professor) Robert Newton has studied the Barnes Aquifer extensively in his role as a member of BAPAC--the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee. BAPAC operates under the aegis of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and is charged with evaluating, and providing input, on projects that might impact the aquifer, which provides drinking water for Easthampton, Southam[otn, Holyoke, and Westfield.

Northampton is proposing a significant expansion of its existing landfill, which accepts trash from 44 towns, to extend its life for another 20 years. The Department of Environmental Protection (AKA the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, EOEA) has determined that the landfill is situated over a recharge area for the Barnes Aquifer. DEP regs prohibit landfills over aquifer recharge areas--yet it has waived these regulations for the city of Northampton.

Dr. Newton asserts that existing studies on the landfill--including the STANTEC report-- are inadequate or flawed.

The landfill expansion will require a special permit from the Northampton City Council, which must give super-majority (2/3) approval.

Dr. Newton explains that an aquifer recharge area consists of gravely, sandy soils that are permeable to rainwater. The Maloney well is surrounded by impermeable clay-based soils, and is recharged from distant locations, which include the existing landfill area.

Three landfills up-gradient from the Maloney well are producing leachate, according to Newton. (Two of these, located in Easthampton, have been decommissioned.) Newton cites evidence that contamination from the landfill has been steadily increasing since 1992.

Newton explained that landfill leachate reduces dissolved oxygen in the groundwater, which precipitates iron and manganese (creating "flocculant" surface water, such as seen in the orange-toned Hannum Brook), and can mobilize naturally-occuring arsenic in rocks. In the scientific literature, iron/manganese flocculance and arsenic contamination are highly related. Western Mass is one area of New England with a high concentration of arsenic-containing rocks. One domestic well downgradient from the landfill has already tested positive for arsenic.

The Maloney well is borderline in its concentration of iron and manganese. Newton argues that pushing more of these metals into the well--and potentially arsenic--is not the answer. It might take 25-50 years for the effects of leachate on groundwater to become apparent. Are we mortgaging our future for a quick, temporary fix?

EOEA # 12351

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

an audio tour of the wastewater treatment plant

wrong biz
bad turtle
sewer out

either use the embedded flash player to stay on the page, or use the direct links to download the mp3s.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Drunk Stuntman Sober and Acoustic

Freddy Freedom, guitar player with the Drunk Stuntmen (whose sobriety blog is a must-read) stopped by the VFR studio on Sunday night to play some cuts from the new CD State Fair (in stores on May 20), to talk a bit about life, and to deliver a few live acoustic songs.

Those of us in a certain Pioneer Valley Cohort (No, that wouldn't be the Crafts Ave Gang--although Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins is rumoured to have shared beer and a Red Sox game with the boys while they were touring in Ireland) have known for years that our friends the Drunk Stuntmen not only put on a fabulous rock and roll show, but that each are fine and discerning musicians in their own right. In the eleven cuts on State Fair, The Stuntmen, after fifteen years of working together as a band, are luminous.

• The Drunk Stuntmen are Steve Sanderson (lead vocals, guitar), Alex Johnson (lead guitar & vocals), Scott Brandon (bass and vocals), Scott Hall (keyboards), and Dave Durst (percussion).

• Alex Johnson and Steve Sanderson are featured musicians in the Young@Heart Band in the FoxSearchlight Young@Heart movie , and will appear on Leno and DeGeneres on April 16 and 17 respectively.

• State Fair was recorded live to 16 tracks by Mitch Easter of R.E.M., Velvet Crush, Pavement and Helium fame at the Fidelitorium Studio in North Carolina, and will be widely distributed by selecto-hits. Former Valley resident Morgan Kraft made the introduction.

• Their tour dates include the Wilshire Theater in Beverly Hills and The Rodeo Bar in NYC, but they still like to come back home and rock the Rt. 63 Roadhouse in the shabby country milltown of Millers Falls.

• On April 25 at 10:00, The Iron Horse on Center Street in Northampton will host a CD release party, which promises to be a fine event. (Fred Eaglesmith has the 7 p.m. slot--so if you go out to hear Fred, stick around!)

listen to the mp3 halcyon days as permormed acoustic in the studio

Listen to the radio show, full of live acoustic songs and cuts from State Fair here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hear no Evil: Councilors and the Landfill

The Northampton Department of Public Works, backed by Mayor Mary Clare Higgins, wishes to expand the Northampton regional landfill on Glendale Road to add another 21 years to its life. The landfill accepts trash from 44 towns, and is slated to close at the end of 2011. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has issued a waiver to the city, allowing, for the first time in state history, permission to place a landfill over an underground public water supply--the Barnes Aquifer--which serves Easthampton, Westhampton, Southampton, and Holyoke.

But--the DPW will need a special permit from the city council before the landfill can be expanded. Michael Pill, a land-use lawyer hired to advise the city, says that the council must behave as a "quasi-judicial body" in its deliberations on the landfill permit. Off-the-record communication with constituents must be avoided or made part of the public record, evidence that is not part of the public record should not be considered, and individual councilors are responsible for explaining how they reached their decision.

The Paradise City Forum wishes to hold an open public forum on the subject of the landfill, with a panel of guests that include a hydrogeologist and advocates on both sides of the issue. Traditionally, councilors have been invited and encouraged to attend Paradise City Forum events, and even to co-sponsor them. Can councilors attend a live public forum on the landfill, where useful information may come to light, or should they just stay home?

It depends upon who you ask. Last Sunday I brought veteran activist, blogger, and Paradise City Forum organizer Daryl LaFleur into the studio to shed some light upon these issues of information, democracy, and city government.

Podcast/MP3 link here.
listen on this page using the embedded flash player:

For more info, listen to Kelsey Flynn's ( interview with the mayor on this subject here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gathering for Nancy Rockland-Miller

Nancy is a great friend, a guitar player, a singer and songwriter, one of the best party hosts around, and just a ton of fun. She was recently hospitalized at Columbia-Presbyterian with an inoperable and rare form of lymphoma. Upon hearing the news, her Northampton friends gathered to keep company for the evening. We all love this woman a lot; if you have any spare good thoughts to send, send them now.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Tours of Water and Sewer Plants

This announcement from the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association recently crossed our desk:

"The Ward Three Neighborhood Association, in cooperation with Ward 3 City Councilor Bob Reckman, has scheduled a public tour of the City's Wastewater Treatment Plant and Flood Control Building on Saturday, March 29 at 10 AM. The plant is located on Hockanum Road. Take the first driveway on the right after you go under the railroad trestle. The tour will be led by Superintendent George Brehm. This facility is well worth seeing, especially the wonderful old flood control building that pumps every year to keep the lowest areas in the City from flooding.

There will be a tour of the City's brand new $24 million Water
Treatment Plant on Saturday, May 3, at 10 AM. This plant was opened in late January and provides the City with water that is carefully filtered and therefore requires far less chlorination. The Water Treatment Plant is located on Mountain St. in Haydenville/Williamsburg. Please take the first driveway on the left once you see the Mountain St. reservoir on your right. This tour will be conducted by Alex Roseweir, the chief operator. Parking is limited, so carpooling is encouraged. If you have any questions, please call Councilor Reckman at 413-695-0281."

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The DPW on Water

Northampton Water:
Where Does it Come From,
and Where Does it Go?

Ned Huntley, Head of the Department of Public Works for the City of Northampton, and Dave Sparks, head of the Water Division of the the DPW, answer lots of questions about water filtration ("making water" in the parlance of the profession), delivery, wastewater treatment, and drainage. Why did Northampton have to build a $28 million water filtration plant? How does this plant, which is capable of delivering 6.5 millions of gallons a day, work? Do we have enough water to meet our future needs? How do we protect our supply? Are the delivery pipes in good condition? Is the plant run by City employees, or are we outsourcing its operation?

Is stormwater--a notorious non-point source of pollution to environmental planners--adequately monitored and managed? And wastewater--how exactly is sewerage treated? Does it get dumped into the Connecticut? How clean is it at that point? What do we do with the sludge? Is the entire water delivery and disposal system energy-intensive?

Oh...both Ned Huntley and I want that job where you get to drive around in an orange DPW truck and patrol watershed land in Williamsburg. Too bad; I'll bet he's a bit more qualified than I am.

Watch as a slide show/video, or download the mp3 using the direct link:


Monday, March 10, 2008

Northampton Statuary

This Soldier and this Sailor stand guard outside of Memorial Hall in Northampton. I would like to put together a radio show, or perhaps a series, on 19th Century Downtown Architecture and Monuments. Memorial Hall might make an interesting case study. How were design decisions made, and by whom? What kind of a regulatory structure was in place--how did the public and private realms intersect in the construction of this building? Were there public discussions about the "meaning" of the building in the press? What was the building intended for, originally, and how has its use changed over time? Where did the materials for the building come from, and how were they transported? What is the significance of these two statues? Where were they cast, and by whom?

If anyone has any suggestions for whom I might talk to to get started, please let me know. I'll start by going to the Forbes and speaking with Elise Feeley, and will venture over to Historic Northampton as well. I would like to find somebody knowledgeable and conversant who would be good on the radio. Any Suggestions?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Local Buzz in Chrysalis Mode--Saulmon Speaks

Greg Saulmon, editor of the Local Buzz, a free newspaper focusing upon politics, civic affairs, and the arts in western Massachusetts, was initially taken aback when his employer, Mass Publishing, an affiliate of the Springfield Republican, announced that the monthly print edition of the Buzz was being discontinued. The Local Buzz Blog would stay as a location on MassLive. Should buzz-meisters Saulmon, Bill Peters, and Josh Thayer be pounding the pavement in their daddies' wingtips? After sleeping on it and suffering the requisite dark night of the soul, Greg realized that he was was actually being granted an amazing opportunity.

When we spoke with Greg Saulmon on March 2, he had already submitted a proposal to the parent company for reinventing the Local Buzz as a cutting-edge, web-based publication. Details? Well, Greg isn't showing his hand right yet. But he suggested that exciting developments are afoot....

That subject being off the table, we proceeded to have a fantastic discussion about the changing face of journalism and what that might mean to the Pioneer Valley. With Bloggers such as The Northamptonist actually walking the beat, attending meetings, and working the community in real time, should the cubicle-based scribes at the dailies be worried? How can collaborative information-gathering deliver niche information to the community--such as, say, the locations of stores that sell live bait for fishing? Do newspapers really need to employ trained reporters to cover "ice cream socials," or can that type of reporting be off-loaded to the greater community, freeing up newsroom resources to cover hard news? Why are certain newspapers having such a hard time understanding that a website can be much, much more than a simple copy-and-paste from the print edition? Can social networking part the "Tofu Curtain" (AKA the Holyoke Range) that separates the upper valley from Holyoke and Springfield?

Well, Extra, Extra; Read All About It. Wanna Meet The Press? Listen in.

Use either these direct links to download or play in quicktime, or use the embedded flash player to listen directly from this webpage.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

You Don't Put a Landfill on Top of an Aquifer

The City of Northampton, Massachusetts is planning to expand its landfill over the recharge area of the Barnes Aquifer, an important source of drinking water for 4 neighboring towns. The existing landfill liner already leaks, polluting nearby Hannum Brook. Bluegrass band Appalachian Still made an appearance at a public forum, and delivered this message to the City Council, the Board of Public Works, and a bevy of consultants--"You don't put a landfill on top of an aquifer."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Poet Kerry O'Keefe, Writer Maureen O'Brien

Three third-generation Irish-American women (two of whom are accomplished writers, and one of whom hosts a weekly talk show) meet to share prose and poetry, to ponder the role of the "scapegoated truthteller" in the Irish Catholic family, to explore subjects of loss, of female sexuality, violence, and alcoholism, and to tip our hats to injured veterans returning from Iraq.

Kerry O'Keefe's chapbook "From a Burning Building," was published by St. Martin's Press in 2006, and is available at the Broadside Bookshop. Maureen O'Brien's novel "b-mother" was published by Harcourt in 2006, and is widely available.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Kerry O'Keefe "Late Mass in August"

Northampton poet Kerry O'Keefe and novelist Maureen O'Brien will be our guests tonight on the Community Radio Hour.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

Northampton Weather, Outside the Cubicle

Steve, AKA Meatball. His wife got the trailer; she dropped Steve for his best friend. Degenerative arthritis stemming from injury while on active duty. Has had no luck with disability applications, his paperwork never seems to emerge from the bureaucracy. Crashing on sofas and floors.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Daniel Ellsberg Speaks

Ed Russell and I ventured to Bentley College in Waltham on January 2008 to record the ACLU of Massachusetts Conference, where Daniel Ellsberg -- the RAND corporation insider and military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times during the Vietnam War -- was the featured speaker. Ed produced an hour of radio from our audio capture. Ed's radio show, "Active Ingredients," can be heard on Monday Evenings from 6-7 on WXOJ-LP, Northampton, Valley Free Radio, 103.3 FM. This and many other fascinating recordings can be downloaded at

Listen by clicking on the link below:
Ellsberg Speaks: A Coup has Occurred

Monday, February 18, 2008

James Lowenthal on Bicycle Transportation For All

James Lowenthal, Astronomy Professor at Smith College, also serves as MassBike chapter president here in the Pioneer Valley. He spoke last year at the Media Education Foundation on the topic of Clean Transportation in the Valley. This inspiring and eye-opening presentation was recorded by Ed Russell of Active Ingredients media. We ran this recording for the February 17 edition of the Radio Hour.

Pair of Cyclists*, originally uploaded by [Zakkaliciousness].

to listen to the mp3, click on the link to launch your media player, or use the embedded flash player below to stay on this page:

James Lowenthal Speaks at the Media Education Foundation

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ed Shanahan is Back!

Retired Gazette editor Ed Shanahan is back from vacation, and his on-line journal is once again teeming with observation and commentary.

Hugo Chavez, The American Red Cross, Declining American Literacy, Pfizer, the Evisceration of the Great American Newspaper, and the Global Scrap Metal Industry....

The honorable Mr. Shanahan is on a roll, and in a contrarian mood. Bookmark; as his old-school web-based journal, created before blogging was all the rage, does not generate an RSS feed.

Hey There Analog Bob-Meet the Press!

This just in from City Councilor Bob Reckman concerning the first meeting of the Best Practices Committee:

"The location of the initial meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Best Practices has been changed. The committee will meet in the BPW Board Room, which is located in the Department of Public Works at 125 Locust St., Northampton. The building is across Rt. 9 from Smith Vocational. We are trying to arrange for the meeting to be broadcast live or taped for later showing. We do not know yet if we will be successful. The public is cordially invited to attend."

Uhh, Bob, could we have a date and time? As for "taping" the proceedings...we hope you are succesful. But ya never know, one of them new-fangled digital documentarians might just choose to cover the event....

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

exit 19 advisory group

This just in from the Mayor's office:


Residents Proposed By Mayor Higgins to Al Stegemann, MassHighway District 2 & Accepted 2/7/08


Gerald Budgar
127 Bridge Street Northampton MA 01060
gbudgar at

Mara Shulman Ryan
27 Coolidge Avenue Northampton MA 01060
marashulman at

Christine Cahillane
337 Bridge Street Northampton MA 01060
ccahillane at

City Councilor
Robert Reckman City Councillor Ward 3
36 Fruit Street Northampton MA 01060
bobreckman at

City Staffer
Edward (Ned) Huntley, PE Director of DPW
125 Locust Street Northampton MA 01060
587-1570 x. 101
nhuntley at

Representative from MassBike
James Lowenthal 181 Crescent St.
Northampton, MA 01060
james at

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Roessler meets Hornor on Hospital Hill

What was the rationale for tearing down Old Main, the massive 19th-century stone and brick edifice that stood at the center of the former Northampton State Hospital? Jack Hornor, (photo to the left), a member of the Citizens Advisory Committee that recommended the demolition of the historic building, squares off with historic preservation advocate Mark Roessler (photo below), who recently wrote a 2-part story for the Valley Advocate called "How Not to Save Old Main."

Two options for listening: use the direct links, or use the embedded flash player at the bottom to stream without having to leave the page.

The Citizens Advisory Committee: Was Demolition Inevitable?
The Math, The Master Plan
Civic Monuments and Insurance Liability
The NDC and Save Old Main
Jack: Information on the Community Preservation Act

Northampton Weather, Outside the Cubicle

more from the international working group on home-grown media production

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Buildings to be Demolished by MassHighway

Under the current plan promulgated by MassHighway, these buildings would be destroyed to make way for the ramp expansion at exit 19 of I91.

back of aquadro
back yard gothic house
barn and tree
blue house
multi family

Friday, February 8, 2008

Five-Minute Presentations, Best Practices Finalists

Two of the eight finalists for the Ad Hoc Committee on Best Practices withdrew their applications since the last council meeting: Bonnie Rose and Patty Morey-Walker. The remaining six (Lisa DiPiano, Wendy Foxmyn, Alex Ghiselin, Peter Hirschman, Kevin Lake, and Jim Palermo) campaigned one last time at Thursday's regular meeting.
Footage shot by Northampton Community Television; Primitive extract, trim, and upload by CRH blogmeister.

Lisa DiPiano

Wendy Foxmyn

Alex Ghiselin

Peter Hirschman

Kevin Lake

Jim Palermo

Thursday, February 7, 2008

best practices committee

Alex Ghiselin, Lisa DiPiano, Jim Palermo, and Wendy Foxmyn were chosen last night by the City Council to serve on the newly-formed Ad Hoc Committee on Best Practices in municipal decision-making. The mood, as the meeting adjourned, was largely celebratory and hopeful.

See Fred Contrada's story on MassLive:
Ad Hoc Panel members Chosen

Mike Kirby: Back Row, Back Ward

Former City Councilor Mike Kirby is a political activist, a freelance investigative journalist, and author. His most recent book, "Back Row, Back Ward" examines the history of the efforts to redevelop Hospital Hill, former site of the Northampton Lunatic Asylum. He spins an arcane tale, involving public agencies, private developers, a string of mayors, and an Advisory Committee that caught the eye of the State Ethics Commission. It's an alphabet soup: the State Division of Capital Planning and Operations (DCPO), The Community Builders (TCB), The Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC), Hospital Hill LLC, and the mysterious Northampton Development Corporation (NDC). He paints a picture of wishful thinking, back room dealing, pre-ordained conclusions, and disregard for historical values in the pursuit of profit.

Do you take issue with Kirby's interpretation of events? Well, tune in this Sunday, February 10. CAC member Jack Hornor will tell the story from another perspective. But not alone: he will be sharing the subterranean Valley Free Radio studio with Mark Roessler, who recently wrote a series for the Valley Advocate called "How Not to Save Old Main."

Two options for listening: click on direct links below, to play the file in your computer's designated media player, or use the embedded flash player below to stream audio from your web browser.

Track 1: 19th Century through Mid-Twentieth Century
Track 2: 1993: Formation of Citizens' Advisory Committee
Track 3: Studies; Mayor Ford's Committee
Track 4: Memorandum of Agreement
Track 5: TCB, Mass Development, DCPO, & the NDC
Track 6: Save Old Main

Northampton Weather, Outside the Cubicle

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Editorial: Cheer Up

Greetings from the Bohemian Wing of the Progressive Party of the Paradise City of America, AKA Northampton, Massachusetts. Our historic Kirkbride 19th-century lunatic asylum on the hill got torn down in 2006, an airport hotel was chosen was chosen as the primary monument to anchor our most important public square, a highway expansion is planned that, if implemented, will cut a swath through the Connecticut River Meadows, a neighborhood of good old houses last year met the wrecking ball to enable the expansion of Smith College....The people are outraged, calling for an examination of "best practices" in municipal decision-making, but the process of creating the "best practices" committee itself has been marked by gothic maneuvering....

Oh, Cheer Up. Those in charge have your best interests at heart. Buncha Whiners. Get a coffee to go at the Haymarket and go stand outside of Thornes with your favorite local street musician and watch the world go by. Best Little Arts Town in America? Some things in life can't be bought.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Northampton Women/Iraqi Women

Celia Miller is best known in Northampton (and throughout the northeast) for her work as a musician. Celia is shown below/right singing at The Elevens with Kim Zombik and the funk band Unit 7. But lately, she and a group of her friends have been raising money and raising consciousness about the atrocities being committed against women in post-invasion Iraq. Recently, they held a house party and raised $150 for the Organization of Womens Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). More events are planned, so keep your eyes open.

Yanar Mohammed is the founder of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq. She is a powerful spokesperson in an international campaign to end atrocities against women in that war-torn and increasingly fundamentalist country. Rape, abduction, beheadings, and honor killings by family members have become far more common since the invasion. According to Yanar Mohammed, the Iraqi constitution sanctions Sharia law in family matters, leaving women little or no secular judicial protection. OWFI, as part of its mission, runs secret shelters and operates an underground railway to spirit women out of the country. Yanar Mohammed's life has been threatened repeatedly, yet she continues to openly speak out for women's human rights in Iraq. We spoke to Yanar Mohammed live on the air. Click on the arrow below to use the embedded player, or listen to the file in quicktime by clicking here.