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March 1999

Vol. 8 No. 3

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WEDNESDAYS, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Parent-child playgroup at the Becket Town Hall.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17, 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m.: Voter registration session at the home of Town Clerk Michele Beemer (148 Middlefield Road).

SATURDAY, MARCH 20. 8:46 p.m.: Vernal equinox.  Spring (sic) begins.

MONDAY, MARCH 29, 9 p.m.: Deadline for filing nomination papers.

MONDAY, APRIL 5, 7:30 p.m.: Annual Town Caucus at Town Hall.


Dog licenses expire on March 31, reminds Town Clerk Michele Beemer.  The 1999 dog tags will be available at the Town Clerk’s office starting March 15.  For those who find it difficult to get to Town Hall on Monday evenings or who wish to avoid standing in line, Beemer offers the option of getting the licenses by mail.  Send proof of the dog’s rabies vaccination and neutering/spaying along with a check made out to “Town of Washington” to Town Clerk, P.O. Box 98, Washington, MA  01223.  Licenses cost $4 for spayed or neutered dogs and $10 for unaltered dogs.  Beemer says the new license and tag will be sent out promptly.


Having successfully fended off the State Highway Department’s effort to spray herbicides along roadsides, hilltowns are now faced with the power company’s effort to spray along power lines.  Though the public comment period for WMECO’s five-year plan is over, residents have until March 10 to comment on the yearly plan.  Letters should be sent to: Andrea Szylvian, Rights of Way Program, State Pesticide Bureau, 100 Cambridge Street, 21st floor, Boston, MA  02202.

Plainfield resident Jennifer Lee has been active in the effort to stop the use of herbicides, particularly near wells and water supplies, but is hindered, she says, by the way the laws are written.  The Wetlands Protection Act, which establishes a 100-foot buffer zone, and the Rivers Act, which establishes a 200-foot buffer zone, both include exceptions for the power company, allowing it to spray within 10 feet of water and 50 feet of a private well.  (It limits the power company to 400 feet from a public water supply.)  Lee says that though the Department of Food and Agriculture has approved the herbicides, they are undertested or the data used is outdated.  She urges people to write to their elected officials as well as contacting local Board of Health and Conservation Commission members to try to stop the use of herbicides. 


The February 25 School Committee Meeting to discuss the budget for the Central Berkshire Regional School District (CBRSD) was swarming with Washingtonians determined to express their distress with a cost-cutting proposal that would send Washington’s fourth and fifth graders to Hinsdale.  The proposal, which would lower the budget increase to 5.8%, would have cut two full-time teaching positions at the Becket school.  Speaking out against the cuts--and the move of Washington children to Hinsdale--were Selectman Richard Grillon, Finance Committee member Richard Spencer and residents Lucy Sacco and Jody Lampro among others.  In fact, School Committee Finance Subcommittee Chair John Bantjes said the committee had decided to reconsider the idea because the move would make the Becket School ineligible for State reimbursement. 

“The Superintendent seems to want to play blind man’s bluff,” says Grillon, “by not telling where the cuts are going to be.  The whole thing doesn’t sit very well.  It’s like he’s saying, ‘vote me the 7% or I’ll close the Becket School.’  I think the only thing we can do is vote no confidence in the Superintendent that he can’t find cuts that don’t include closing the Becket School.”

Bantjes explained to TRACKS one area causing budget problems is transportation (for which the State has reimbursed the district only two-thirds).  If the State fully funded transportation, it would mean an additional $300,000--which represents about 2% of the budget increase.  He urged people to contact their elected officials to urge full reimbursement of transportation costs.

Washington School Committee Represen-tative Jan Huebner explains that transportation costs are only a piece of the puzzle.  Rumors that the Becket School might ultimately be shut down are not entirely without foundation, she says.  “If we don’t have any funding to overhaul the school, we would have to shut down.  It’s a natural next move,” she says.  “That’s a long-range look, and the district hasn’t taken that long look.  As Bill Fuller has said, we need a five-year plan.”  Huebner notes, for example, that DEP could shut the school down anytime it wants due to the lack of potable water.  Carting water in, she says, is only buying time as long as DEP perceives the school to be acting in good faith to fix the situation. 

Bantjes agrees that transportation is just a piece of the problem.  There are three areas where the State makes unfunded mandates: special education, MCAS and ADA compliance.  Special education costs increased 12.9% this year.  He again urges people to contact their elected officials to request funds to help local districts comply with the State requirements. 

Huebner says if people are finding this year’s budget hard to swallow. they’re in trouble, since next year they may be faced with similar increases.  Bantjes agrees: “The problem is that over time you cut all the easy stuff to stay within 3%,” explained Bantjes.  “But you finally get to where the only thing left to cut is staff.”  Buildings get into condition where you have no choice but to fix them.  “The worst part,” he said, “is that no matter what cuts you make, it’s affecting people.”


The Selectmen are looking for a volunteer to be Animal Inspector.  Interested parties should contact the Selectmen at Town Hall.

The Board of Assessors is still hoping to find a third assessor or an assistant to do clerical work preferably on Monday evenings but possibly during the day.  The latter position will be paid on an hourly basis. Interested parties should contact Michael Dargi (623-5328).

Meanwhile, Town Clerk Michele Beemer is still looking for a new assistant to help out on Monday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m.  The position is volunteer, but a good training ground for the position of Town Clerk which is paid.  Interested persons should contact Beemer either at home (623-6677) or at Town Hall on Monday evenings.


How better to celebrate spring than with a tee shirt or two?  Washington tee shirts and short-sleeved Henleys in red and white are available at Town Hall on Monday evenings. 


The Selectmen are planning to establish a swap shop in the former salt shed building.  Residents would be able to bring in usable items and trade for other things.  They hope to have this in place by July.

Blue recycling bins ($4) and compost bins ($20) are available.  To purchase bins, pay (preferably by check) Town Clerk Michele Beemer.  She will give you a voucher to take to the Transfer Station to pick up the bin(s).

The Transfer Station is now accepting fluorescent tube ballasts.


The Housatonic Valley Association has announced the Community Watershed Initiative, a project to use local communities to identify environmental problems and address their solutions.  As part of this initiative, it is forming teams to inventory the shoreline of the Housatonic and its tributaries.  The East Branch Stream Team will inventory the shoreline of the river and its tributaries from Muddy Pond to East Street in Pittsfield to identify special areas to be protected and problem areas to be worked on.  Some members of the team will then begin work on protection and problem solving while others will be trained as water quality monitors.  People interested in becoming part of the team should contact Bill Cawley (623-8730).


On February 24 about 20 people attended the first of a series of meetings seeking public input for the North-Central Berkshire Access Study.  The Major Investment Study (MIS) is required by law and purports to be the “first comprehensive, in-depth analysis of access issues north of the Massachusetts Turnpike.”  The study is being conducted by the Berkshire Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group composed of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation & Construction and the Massachusetts Highway Department. 

As the meeting got underway, it quickly became apparent that some viewed this as yet another discussion of whether turnpike access should be added in West Stockbridge or Becket.  District One Highway Superintendent Ross Dindio interrupted the proceedings to passionately describe the purpose of the meeting: to gather a wide range of ideas from people; not to decide where a north-south connector road should be located.  Among the concerns voiced were: the need for bike paths; the number of stop signs and traffic lights encountered between Dalton and Pittsfield; better road maintenance (particularly, Washington Mountain Road); better access to trains to travel both within and in and out of the county. 

Two more meetings are scheduled to elicit input from the public: Wednesday, March 10, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Ralph Froio Senior Center in Pittsfield; and Thursday, March 11, 7 to 9 p.m., at the Lee High School cafeteria.  In addition, the group supplied a form that people may use to express their concerns about mobility and transportation needs in Berkshire County.  A copy of this form is included with this issue of TRACKS so that Washingtonians may be sure to have their voices heard.


Travelers on Washington Mountain Road have had a big treat lately: bigger than a moose.  It’s a snow dragon built by Jennifer Wittig and friends Bob, Todd and Jen after the February 18 snowfall.  It took the team four hours, says Wittig, and the first head fell off.  Father Charles helped repair the beast, adding carrot teeth and potato eyes.  It has drawn a fair amount of attention, says Wittig, with many people pulling over for a closer look. 



If you've got news, comments, critiques, whatever to share, or you want to advertise, please write or call Abby Reifsnyder (623-6073). 



Send your comments and questions about Tracks at: tracks@town.washington.ma.us