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Epstein, Watnik appointed to Open Space, Recreation Committee

Date: 10/10/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM – The Board of Selectmen appointed two new members to the Open Space and Recreation Committee at its Oct. 7 meeting.

Judi Epstein and Murray Watnik, both relative newcomers to Wilbraham, were unanimously chosen by the board to fill two open seats on the committee, beating out a third candidate, Michael Dane.

The three candidates interviewed for the position at the board’s Sept. 30 meeting. Watnik’s term is for three years, while Epstein received a two-year term.

Selectman Robert Boilard said that while all three candidates were well qualified, he felt Dane’s prior interactions with the committee could affect his ability to be an effective participant in debates.

“It’s my feeling that Judi and Murray could debate, hold conversations and get things done,” he said. “Michael Dane, while I love the man, could be a kink in that debate and conversation.”

Dane was extremely outspoken at meetings and via the Internet in opposition of the Open Space and Recreation Plan that was developed recently.

Boilard voiced his concerns in this regard during Dane’s interview, but Dane said besides the plan, he admired many aspects of the committee’s work and felt he could interact positively with the rest of the group.

Boilard also said the amount of time a resident has been in town should not affect their ability to volunteer, pointing out that David Ortendahl, also a relatively new resident, was the only one asked about his time of residency during the Planning Board’s recent interviews of associate member candidates and Boilard felt it was the reason Ortendahl was not selected.

Watnik, who said he moved into town a couple of months ago, became aware of the openings through his association with the Wilbraham Hiking Club.

“There’s a lot of work to be done to preserve this wonderful space,” he said. “I’m here to work diligently to preserve it.”

Working in the health field as a radiologist, he said he saw a connection between nature and good health and having open space available is a major benefit to residents.

“Modern society is so separated from nature. You can find a lot of health and good mental health out there,” he said.

He added that there was a “balance to be achieved between growth and sustaining the environment.”

Epstien, a resident for approximately six months, moved from Longmeadow to the Cedar Ridge development on Stony Hill Road and “fell in love with the open space and friendliness” in the community.

“It’s very different from anything I’ve experienced before,” she stated.

Epstein said while she had little knowledge of the committee or its membership, she was very involved in community initiatives in Longmeadow and hoped to bring her appreciation of community service to Wilbraham.

“I love being involved,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what to expect, but that’s what’s exciting about it.”

Epstein said she has run a business that brings in nearly $1 million a year and was a teacher in the Flats in Holyoke for 10 years with “marginalized students,” so she felt she would be able to bring a measured attitude to discussions.

“I don’t get flustered easily,” she said, adding that research is a strength of hers and she would be well-prepared for any debate.

She also said it was her belief that the town can’t avoid growth, but can make efforts to better determine what that growth is.

The board also appointed two new members to the Cultural Council to fill openings.

Sue Adams, a nurse practitioner who has been a resident for seven years, said she became interested in the position because of a neighbor’s high praise of the council.

“I want to make sure the funds get appropriated in the best way possible and serve a broad group of people,” she said.

Jean Stone, who moved into town from Amherst in March, served on the cultural council in her former town and wished to continue the work in Wilbraham.

“I’m very familiar with the process,” she said. “It’s a great way to spend money that comes in mostly from the Lottery.”

Stone is an author who has penned 17 novels.

Her appointment is contingent upon her becoming a registered voter in Wilbraham, which she admitted she has not done yet.

Two residents also interviewed for a position on the Conservation Commission, however, were told a decision would not be made until a later meeting.

Paul Eckness, a teacher at Wilbraham & Monson Academy for 22 years, spoke of his extensive experience in conservation of wetlands and watersheds, explaining that his dissertation for his doctorate was on watershed management.

His research skills and knowledge of the subject, he said, would be valuable to the committee and he was looking forward to better understanding the policy aspect of conservation.

“This is a wonderful town that has a jewel of different habitats,” he said. “We need to be able to preserve it and make sure we develop in the right areas.”

Edna Colcord said she also had a background in science, having taught environmental science for more than 30 years and has been “running around in the woods since I was a little girl.”

She was also a member of the Vision Task Force.

The thing she said she looked forward to the most was the ability to be part of a commission that would have an impact.

“I know the Conservation Commission is heard and is listened to,” she said.