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A year in review…

Editor’s Note: The Longmeadow News has compiled a list, in no specific order, of some of the most impactful events and issues it covered in 2019. What do you think was the biggest story of 2019? Let us know in a letter to the editor at chrism@thereminder.com.

Changes to Longmeadow News

2019 was a year of change for the Longmeadow News.

On April 18, Editor Jeff Hanouille stepped down from his position effective to pursue another career opportunity and prepare to welcome a new child to his family this summer. Hanouille was the editor of the Longmeadow News since 2013 and its sister paper, the Enfield Press, since 2009.

Chris Maza replaced Hanouille as the editor as both papers on April 21 after more than a year as the senior writer and editor of the Marketing and Communications Department at American International College. Prior to AIC, he was the assistant managing editor at Reminder Publications, where he was employed from 2010 to 2017.

The winds of change blew again in July when Reminder Publishing LLC purchased the Westfield News Group, the publishing company of the Longmeadow News, maintaining local ownership and management of the Longmeadow News under the leadership of General Manager Francis Smith and Managing Editor G. Michael Dobbs. The Longmeadow News, along with the Enfield Press, Westfield News and the Original Pennysaver, joined a network of newspapers that includes the East Longmeadow Reminder, Chicopee Herald, and the Agawam/West Springfield Reminder and reaches more than 100,000 readers throughout Greater Springfield and north central Connecticut. Reminder Publishing also prints two monthly magazines – Go Local and Prime.

Having marked 50 years in the community, the Longmeadow News has begun and continues to undergo a thorough review of its operations in an effort to achieve sustainability in order to ensure the newspaper’s continued service to the town.

New town manager

Town Manager Lyn Simmons (right) and Select Board Chair Marie Angelides (left).

Lyn Simmons officially began work as the third town manager in the community’s history on Nov. 12, replacing Stephen Crane, who departed for a similar position with the town of Concord.

The Select Board unanimously voted to offer the vacant town manager position to Simmons at its Oct. 2 meeting and agreed to a three-year contract with a starting annual salary of $139,000 on Oct. 7.

Former Town Manager Stephen Crane

Crane was offered the Concord town manager position on April 30 and on June 5, the Concord Board of Selectmen announced that it had voted to sign a contract with Crane on June 3. Crane began working in Concord on Aug. 12.

The board hired Jay Moynihan, the former town administrator and municipal light plant general manager in North Attleborough, as the interim town manager.

Simmons, who was previously the chief of staff for Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz, was selected from three finalists, beating out Scott Szczebak, the human resources director for the town of Wellesley and former Chicopee mayor’s aide and human resources director, and Paul Fahey, chief of staff for Methuen Mayor James Jajuga. Simmons and the other finalists were chosen from a pool of 25 applicants and eight candidates who advanced to preliminary interviews with the town’s search committee.

Simmons started in Northampton in 2004, serving in various roles and was the mayoral aide to former Northampton Mayor Clare Higgins as well as Narkewicz from 2011 to 2014 when Narkewicz created the chief of staff position and elevated her to that role. Earlier in 2014, she was selected to become Southampton’s town administrator but ultimately failed to agree with the town on a contract.

Prior to selecting Simmons, the selectmen stated that they were impressed with the breadth of her municipal experience, her abilities as a communicator, her time management and goal setting strategies and her work on large-scale projects including a comprehensive wage analysis program and LED lighting conversions.

Adult Center groundbreaking

From right to left, former Town Manager Stephen Crane, Selectman Thomas Lachiusa, Selectman Marc Strange, state Sen. Eric Lesser, state Rep. Brian Ashe, Select Board Chair Marie Angelides, Selectman Mark Gold, and Adam Dalessio of Colliers International, the owner’s project manager, throw the ceremonial first shovels of dirt during the groundbreaking for the Adult Center.

After years of debate and delay, more than 200 members of the community gathered at Greenwood Park to celebrate the groundbreaking to kick off the building of the 26,000-square-foot facility on July 11.

During the ceremony, state Sen. Eric Lesser called Building Committee Chair Marybeth Bergeron “a force of nature” and Town Manager Stephen Crane credited her with almost willing the project into existence through all of its phases as well as its defeats, including previous town meetings such as the 2016 Special Town Meeting at which a proposal to build the Adult Center at Bliss Park was soundly rejected by residents. With perseverance, the Building Committee succeeded with their second proposal for Greenwood Park at the May 8, 2018 Annual Town Meeting.

The ceremony served as a platform to unveil a new nonprofit entity, the Longmeadow Adult Community Center Fund Inc. (LACCF). The nonprofit’s goal is to raise additional funds not included in the budget to fully furnish and equip the building.

Work on the building has proceeded without major delay. Most recently, erection of the structure’s steel frame has begun.

Rising DPW facility costs

Construction of the DPW facility on Dwight Road was significantly set back by the discovery of asbestos-containing material spread throughout the site. Likewise, costs increased, resulting in the need to approve an additional $1.3 million.

Voters at the Nov. 5 Special Town Meeting approved the bonding of an additional $1.3 million to be used for the completion of the construction of a new Department of Public Works headquarters on Dwight Road.

Town Moderator Rebecca Townsend’s declaration of a two-thirds majority vote was supported by a subsequent hand count with 111 residents in favor and 45 opposed.

Prior to the vote, Finance Director Paul Pasterczyk told those assembled in the gymnasium at Longmeadow High School that the total expected costs for the project are now up to nearly $23.9 million, including $1.35 million in unissued bonds approved at the initial vote on the project that he expected would be utilized and the additional $1.3 million in new bonding.

At issue was the massive effort to remove widespread asbestos-containing material discovered on the Dwight Road site.

Prior to the town’s purchase of the property, the site was first subject to a non-invasive hazardous building investigation in January 2016, which consisted of a walk-through and visual assessment of the former Grande Meadows Tennis Club building for potential contaminants or hazardous building material. None was identified.

A phase one environmental site assessment was also conducted in March 2018 during which officials sought evidence of potential hazardous material – including Department of Environmental Protection and Fire Department records and an interview with the owner of the property. No environmental concerns were identified or divulged.

In June 2018, approximately a month after the general contractor bid was awarded to W.J. Mountford, asbestos-containing material was found underneath the tennis courts. Later, more hazardous material was found in berms along the woodline of the property. Further, while excavating the existing parking lot in July 2018, the contractor discovered more material that tested positive for asbestos buried on the site. From July 2018 to January, Colliers and the town worked with the Department of Environmental Protection on options, finally receiving approval to relocate the material.

Select Board Chair Marie Angelides, citing environmental law, stated the town became responsible for the removal of the asbestos-containing materials as soon as they were discovered.  During the Nov. 5 Town Meeting, Angelides added the town was “looking to the courts to find remedies and remedies are out there” and confirmed at that time that the town was preparing for litigation. Earlier in that meeting, residents voted in favor of transferring $125,000 to the fiscal year operating budget to cover legal costs, including those related to the DPW facility. She also noted the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection filed a complaint against the previous landowners and charged them with illegal disposal of hazardous materials.

Strange, Gold elected

Marc Strange and Mark Gold shake hands after winning seats on the Select Board.

A seasoned veteran and some new blood were chosen to serve on the Select Board during the June 11 Annual Town Election. Then-Select Board Chair Mark Gold and newcomer Marc Strange were the top vote-getters in the race for selectman, beating out Jeffrey Mueller and incumbent William Low for two positions. Strange garnered the most votes of any candidate for selectmen with 1,188. Gold was second with 1,118.

School Committee vacancies

Susan Bell, Jamie Hensch, Gianna Allentuck, and Kevin Shea were all appointed on March 5 to fill out the seven-member School Committee, which had been left in a state of flux since January following the abrupt resignations of former Chair Beth Baron, former Vice Chair Kerrin Morrin, and former members Melanie Rothstein and Stephanie Jasmin.

Baron, Morrin, Rothstein, and Jasmin all voted in November 2018 not to renew Superintendent M. Martin O’Shea’s contract, a controversial move that drew heavy criticism from fellow School Committee members, residents, administrators, students and officials in town. The four ultimately all resigned – one day after a Special Town Meeting where voters approved a warrant article that would allow for the recall of elected officers in the town of Longmeadow.

At the June 11 Annual Town Election, Gianna Allentuck and Kevin Shea sealed one-year seats on the committee. Susan Bell and Jamie Hench won three-year terms. School Committee Chair Armand Wray was also elected to a one-year seat after he was appointed to fill a vacancy created by Jessica Hutchins’ resignation during the summer of 2018. 

New railroad crossing signals

Cindy Cowles raises her arms to celebrate the completion of the signals at the Tina Lane railroad crossing. Cowles’ brother, Warren, was killed by while plowing snow on March 14, 2017 when his truck was struck by a train at the crossing.

On Nov. 15, local, state and federal officials along with the family of late DPW foreman Warren Cowles celebrated the installation of new signals and barriers at the Tina Lane railroad crossing.

An Amtrak train struck Cowles’ truck while he was plowing snow at the crossing during a storm on March 14, 2017. At the time, no signals existed to warn Cowles of the oncoming danger. Cowles’ sister Cindy made it her mission to ensure that no one else suffered a similar fate in Longmeadow.

Select Board Chair Marie Angelides said while state Rep. Brian Ashe and state Sen. Eric Lesser pushed for signals, the effort finally gained steam when Sen. Ed Markey got involved on the federal level. Markey explained before any of the work to build the signals could be done, Amtrak had to confirm the crossing was public, approve a design and construction plan and contribute a portion of the cost. The end result was a state and local partnership through which the state government provided $700,000 and Amtrak covered the remainder of the cost.

The discussion of signals at the site first began in 1981 when two 25-year-old women were killed when a train struck their car. Seven collisions and five fatalities have been recorded at the crossing over several decades, making it the deadliest rail crossing in Massachusetts.

MGM Springfield annual payment

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marie Angelides (second from left) joined officials from other surrounding communities, MGM Springfield, and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission at MGM Springfield’s new VIP Lounge to commemorate nearly $1.8 million in annual mitigation payments.

Longmeadow Select Board Chair Marie Angelides joined officials from other local communities, MGM Springfield and the Massachusetts Gaming Commission for a presentation marking the annual mitigation payments under their respective surrounding community agreements.

As part of Massachusetts gaming legislation, MGM Springfield required to negotiate these monetary agreements to offset costs associated with mitigating adverse impacts of the $900 million development in the city of Springfield’s South End neighborhood. In total, MGM doled out nearly $1.8 million to eight communities, including $281,875 to Longmeadow.

Longmeadow’s agreement was the result of a lengthy process that included arbitration, through which the town was successful in securing a total of $4.4 million, including an $850,000 up-front payment as well $275,000 in annual mitigation payments with a 2.5% inflation escalator. The agreement is valid through the end of MGM Springfield’s initial gaming license.

The primary purpose for the funding Longmeadow officials fought for was improvements to Longmeadow Street and the adjustment of signaled intersections such as Longmeadow Street, Forest Glen Road and Western Drive; Longmeadow and Converse streets and Englewood Road. Angelides told the Longmeadow News that the design for this project “began the day after arbitration” and continues to evolve. She explained the town is currently working on incorporating the road work into the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Pioneer Valley Transportation Improvement Program. Some money was also rolled to the Fire Department to address public safety concerns.

The surrounding community agreement also includes “look back” studies, which were required to begin within 15 months of the casino opening. MGM Springfield celebrated its one-year anniversary at the end of August and the studies are underway now.

Gas metering station

Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s proposed gas metering station on land currently owned by Longmeadow Country Club sparked concerns and action in the community.

Among the efforts to either control or prevent the installation of the facility was a lengthy zoning bylaw change that was approved at the May 14 Town Meeting.

The bylaw allows the town to conduct reviews on potential health threats and impacts and require facility operators to continuously monitor for pollutants and report on the findings. It also requires any company operating in the town to present contingencies for issues such as gas leakage, spills and water contamination, and compels companies to identify and outline any structures and areas that may be impacted by explosions. Noise ordinances are also included.

The Attorney General Maura Healy’s Office approved most of the article but fining guidelines were not upheld and subsequently deleted. Under the bylaw approved by voters, the town would have been able to fine violators up to $1,000 per day for each day a violation continues. However, that portion of the bylaw was found to be out of compliance with the state’s guidelines that state fines would be limited to $300.

In addition, at the Annual Town Election on June 11, residents also voted favorably to a non-binding referendum spearheaded by the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group asking if they would support the town’s use of its first right of refusal on parcels of land to block Tennessee Gas Pipeline’s plan to procure easements on the 2.4 acres of land. However, at its July 10 meeting, the Select Board opted not to exercise the town’s right of first refusal. Select Board Chair Marie Angelides explained the facility could still be built in spite of the proposed $2.7 million land purchase.

The Longmeadow Pipeling Awareness Group pivoted and submitted a petition for a Special Town Meeting to discuss and vote on a zoning bylaw amendment that would potentially bar the metering station

Residents at the Aug. 20 Special Town Meeting voted almost unanimously to support the bylaw. During a presentation on the recommended setbacks for facilities like the gas metering station proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline and Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, resident Curt Freedman told those gathered in the Longmeadow High School that Wolf Swamp Elementary School was within a radius that in the event of an incident would “immediately ignite.” Freedman’s presentation was preceded by one by Michele Marantz, chair of the Longmeadow Pipeline Awareness Group, who covered a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, neighborhood impacts; increased cost to ratepayers; lack of need for gas pipeline expansion in Longmeadow due to its built-out status; danger of pipeline ruptures and explosions, citing incidents in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Kentucky and Pennsylvania; and climate change.

There was no discussion from residents gathered and all but three members of the gallery voted in favor of the bylaw, which now must be approved by the Attorney General’s Office.

New trash bins

Curbside solid waste pickup with new town-issued wheeled 35-gallon carts began this week after the town completed the delivery of the new bins on Nov. 2. Under the new program, residents’ garbage will continue to be removed at no extra cost as long as it fits in the cart with the lid closed and is under 40 pounds. Any excess trash must be placed in town-approved bags, which are available for purchase at the Department of Public Works, as well as retailers such as Big Y, Rocky’s Ace Hardware and Carr Hardware.

The barrels were purchased in partnership with East Longmeadow, primarily funded through a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The grant covered 75 percent of the purchase price of the barrel, according to Department of Public Works Director Mario Mazza.

With the advent of the program came a wave of criticism – primarily complaints regarding the size of the barrels. That criticism is ill warranted, however, Mazza said, as the size of the container is compliant with current town regulations.

Some residents also took issue with the quality of the barrels, stating their lids were warped and did not close. Other residents said they were concerned their trash would not be collected because the lid would not close. Mazza indicated the manufacturer who said over time they should close normally after spending time in the sun.

Wolf Swamp Fields improvements

Residents took their first step toward a major renovation of the Wolf Swamp Fields Complex at the Annual Town Meeting on May 14, passing an article crucial to the advancement of the project.

Voters also decided to support a debt exclusion to fund the renovation of the Wolf Swamp Fields Complex 1168-791 at the June 11 election.

The reconstruction of the complex required borrowing an estimated $1.54 million. The majority of that funding is earmarked for improving parking near Wolf Swamp Road and creating a new central parking lot at the facility. Resurfacing the fields and installing a new irrigation system are also major components.

Severe Summer Storms

The July 8 microburst caused widespread tree damage.

As severe thunderstorms rolled through Western Massachusetts on the evening of July 6, what has been identified as a microburst by the National Weather Service struck the town, causing serious damage.

The majority of the impact was to trees, though multiple buildings and vehicles were also affected. Luckily, there were no serious injuries or loss of life associated with the storm. While other areas experienced some effects of the event, town officials identified the central impact zone as the area bounded by Longmeadow Street on the west, Shaker Road on the east, Bliss Road on the north, and Maple Road on the south.

On Aug. 19, Longmeadow residents were again forced to clean up after strong storms swept through the region. A total of 13 structures were damaged during what the Longmeadow Fire Department described as a “wind event” accompanied by heavy rains and lightning that downed trees and limbs.

The Fire Department reported the area encompassed by Interstate 91 to the west to Laurel Street to the east and from to Forest Glen to the north and Williams Street to the south was most heavily impacted. The vicinity of Riverview Ave. and Cooley Drive sustained the majority of the property damage. Approximately 700 Eversource customers lost power.