| Sarah Heinonen
WEST SPRINGFIELD – The CARE Coalition, an organization that works toward making West Springfield a substance–free community gave a presentation to the town council at its meeting on Oct. 21.
As part of the organization’s 2018 Drug–free Community Grant of $125,000 for five years, CARE Coalition Director Christine Beaumont and Coordinator Nikki Lewis explained their substance–free youth campaign that focuses on an anti–vaping message.
The presentation given to the town councilors described e–cigarettes as an epidemic, with 1,479 injuries in 33 deaths from e–cigarette use affecting all states except Alaska. Lewis listed the dangers of e–cigarette use, such as harming adolescent brains, addictiveness, and a greater likelihood of combustible cigarette use.
She said over 20 percent of West Springfield high school students have vaped within the past 30 days and that many of those students acquired the products through borrowing, third party sales, or directly purchasing the items.
“It’s a community–wide issue requiring a community–wide response,” Lewis said. She listed several steps that have already been taken to address the issue, such as, a school diversion program, the “CATCH My Breath” curriculum, educational presentations and help from law enforcement.
On Oct. 23, the CARE Coalition also had a community town hall with a five–person panel to help prevent underage drinking.
Councilor George Kelly asked what happens when someone is caught vaping in a municipal building to which Beaumont responded that they can be issued a fine. Kelly applauded Governor Baker’s vaping ban initiative.
During the public comment period, Jim Berrelli of 194 Birnie Ave. and David Banas of 78 Kerry Ln. complained of traffic issues in their neighborhood. While Berrelli said the police did write some tickets in the area, the traffic problem is still “horrendous.”
Berrelli called it, “the Birnie 500” and said, “something’s got to get done before somebody gets killed.” Banas complained about speeding and sightlines, especially on a curve across from Hannoush Estates.
Kelly explained to the residents that the police department has a deficit in manpower and that, while Acting Chief Duffy is trying to do more, they are waiting for new officers to go through training.
Banas also vented his frustration around the water rates saying that his water bill increased from $100 to $350. Council President George Condon said that while the mayor's office controls water rates, there would be a meeting on Nov. 13 regarding sewer rates.
Berrelli took some time at the mic to promote the veterans’ breakfast at 9 a.m. on Nov. 2 at the Saint Thomas school gym. He said it costs adults $10, while veterans get in free.
Resident Melissa Henson brought up two issues. The first is the graffiti along Riverdale Road, from the McDonalds to the rotary in the North End. Hanson called it an “ongoing issue.” One wall has been covered in graffiti for over a year, she said.
The second item she mentioned to the council was her support of a conservation restriction on land known as the Birchwoods.
The Birchwoods are five parcels of land that would be set aside for wild animals and natural preservation. While the land would be privately owned, the city would hold a development restriction on the parcels. The project would use $350,000 of Community Preservation Act money.
“It’s a little bit out of the box of what CPA normally sees,” Henson said but urged for it to be considered since the neighborhood residents pooled their money together for an appraisal to get the project rolling.
The budget subcommittee had discussed the project earlier in the evening. Councillor Daniel O’Brien said it was a collaboration between the developer, neighbors, and the town.
John Somers, a CPA member and former planning board member, said that no public hearing had been held for the abutters that the plan was being rushed. “$350,000 is a lot of money out of our budget.”
Councilor Sean Powers said West Springfield is running out of “these small, little forests,” and said this is the purpose of the money in the CPA fund.
Councilor Michael Eger expressed his hesitancy, saying, “I don’t think it reaches the business needs to justify this amount of money.” The motion ended up passing 6–3.
There was a public hearing for a plan by Eversource to relocate two utility poles in front of 425 Piper St. and attach regulators to help with voltage losses on the line. That work was approved by the council.
In another utility matter, the request by Columbia Gas for work to be done along Park Street, Park Ave, Main Street, Hanover Street, and Elmdale Street was withdrawn. Councilor Brian Griffin said the Department of Utilities put a moratorium on projects due to recent gas company safety issues throughout the state.
“I’m glad we didn’t take this up, pass it, approve it, only to have some egg on our face,” said Griffin.
Condon mentioned that West Springfield had a new robocall system. He said residents could sign up townofwestspringfield.org or by texting “TOWS” to 888777.