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.