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Williamstown Fire District Opts to Cancel Street Light Plan
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
02:37AM / Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Part of the crowd that attended Wednesday's meeting of the Williamstown Prudential Committee.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After hearing widespread concern about potential health impacts, the Prudential Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to rescind a decision it made this winter to have LED bulbs installed in the town's street lamps.
 
The committee, which oversees the Fire District, at its monthly meeting decided to back out of an agreement with National Grid to swap out the current incandescent fixtures with light-emitting diodes that have bulbs that burn at 4,000 degrees Kelvin.
 
The color temperature of the planned bulbs generated considerable discussion at the district's annual meeting in May and again at a recent meeting of the town's Planning Board, which concurrently is discussing a bylaw amendment aimed to reduce light pollution.
 
The issue also prompted a couple of dozen people to attend Wednesday afternoon's meeting at the fire station -- many attending their first ever Prudential Committee meeting.
 
Chairman John Notsley moved the topic of the streetlights to the top of the agenda and told his colleagues that he and Fire Chief Craig Pedercini had met with a representative from National Grid earlier this week to ask whether the utility -- which owns the lamps atop the poles -- would consider installing the 2,700- or 3,000-degree bulbs that have been suggested by residents.
 
"She confirmed that the 4,000 bulbs are the only ones available in the [National Grid] program at this time," Notsley said. "She said there would be no financial impact to the district to not go through the conversion at this time."
 
At least, there won't be any additional cost to maintaining the status quo. There will be the loss of a rebate offered for conversions, and the district won't see its electric bill go down as a result of installing the more efficient LED bulbs.
 
Notsley said those financial benefits -- plus a desire to maintain public safety with the current or better level of lighting -- led the committee to sign on to the National Grid LED program in January.
 
"Maybe we're being naive, but … we saw $53,000 [in rebates] hanging out there, and it looked good," Notsley told the large crowd in the fire house meeting room.
 
In making his motion to pull out of the program, Notsley also moved that the district ask Town Manager Jason Hoch to solicit input from members of the town's COOL (Carbon Dioxide Lowering) Committee or other experts to make a recommendation about the appropriate type of LED bulbs that the district should pursue.
 
"I doubt very much we'll see the 4,000 bulbs," Notsley said later in answer to a question from the floor. "I think that's going by the wayside. I daresay at this point the 4,000s won't be back on on the table when the recommendations come back."
 
Stephanie Boyd, who serves on the COOL Committee, told attendees at the meeting that her research found that the 4,000 Kelvin bulbs are the only ones National Grid currently can offer per its orders from the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. But those regulations could change.
 
In the meantime, "I commend the Fire District for listening to the community and appreciate that you're willing to take the time to research this and come up with other options," said Boyd, who also chairs the town's Planning Board.
 
At its most recent meeting, members of the Planning Board were unsure whether a town zoning bylaw could control the district, a separate municipal entity apart from town government that is principally responsible for the town's call volunteer fire department but which also pays for street lights.
 
Although the Prudential Committee's options were limited to leaving things as is or changing to the controversial 4,000 Kelvin bulbs, committee member Ed Briggs sounded an optimistic note.
 
"What I'm seeing is National Grid is getting a lot of pressure from a lot of communities," Briggs said. "That's helpful to us."
 
After the committee voted 3-0 to reverse course on the bulbs, much of the crowd broke out into applause and left the meeting, but not before several of the attendees praised the decision.
 
"I hope everyone in this room remembers the Fire Department and district listened to community concerns," Roger Lawrence said after the vote. "In the future, when they need our support, we should remember that."
 
In other business on Wednesday, the Prudential Committee heard a year-end fiscal report from Clerk-Treasurer Corydon Thurston.
 
Thurston informed the panel that for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, the district had a surplus of about $9,000, 1.9 percent of a $480,751 fiscal year 2019 operating budget.
 
There are still a couple of incidental bills for June that he is expecting, including the monthly phone bill. Once those are paid, whatever remains of that $9,000 is destined for the district's free cash account.
 
Thurston also informed the committee that Gov. Charlie Baker, on the last day of the legislative session, signed a home-rule petition that enables the district to expand the size of the Prudential Committee from three to five, a move that district voters approved at a special district meeting in November.
 
He recommended the committee consider setting a special district election for late September or early October to elect the two new members.
 
Once a date for the polling is decided, Thurston said he would give the committee a calendar of dates for potential candidates to take out papers and return them to get on the ballot.
 
The next meeting of the Prudential Committee is Aug. 21 at the fire station at 4 p.m.
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