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Voters turn down green proposals, federal stormwater bylaw at meeting continuation

Date: 6/1/2010

May 31, 2010

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW -- A week after the town's Annual Town Meeting began, it ended -- with the failure of articles that could help East Longmeadow become a certified Green Community.

The state's Green Communities Division empowers cities and towns to reduce their energy use and their carbon footprint on the journey towards healthier communities and stronger economies, according to the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. By following certain guidelines and instituting certain bylaws, a town could become eligible to take grant money from a pool of up to $10 million.

Article 21 of the Annual Town Meeting warrant asked voters to approve the adoption of the Stretch Energy Code, which would regulate the design and construction of new buildings and building additions for the effective use of energy. Adopting the code is one of the Green Communities requirements.

Selectman Jim Driscoll, who presented the article, said adopting the code made sense both environmentally and economically.

"This makes sense," he said. "It's a small step to take to help end our dependence on foreign oil."

Driscoll pointed out there isn't a large difference between the International Code Council's 2009 regulations and the Stretch Energy Code, and that by 2012 building codes will be tougher than what is proposed in the Stretch Energy Code.

"This will happen," he stated. "Either we adopt it now and get the benefits of being proactive [by being able to apply for grant money] or we just sit back and let it happen."

Despite the inevitability of the stricter building codes, many of those at the meeting did not support the adoption of the Stretch Energy Code. Builder Bill Laplante said the additional costs associated with constructing according to the code could bar young families and retirees from building new homes in East Longmeadow.

Resident Peter Cokotis noted that the Department of Revenue reports that growth in town has declined in six of the past 10 years and that the increased construction costs could further reduce new growth in East Longmeadow.

One resident stated that "being green should be a choice," while another noted that to young families especially those in their twenties and thirties -- being environmentally friendly is "hugely important."

Carleen Fischer Hoffman, a member of the town's Green Committee, noted that the town has been working on the Stretch Energy Code proposal since 2008 and that accepting it would benefit everyone in town by promoting East Longmeadow as a progressive town.

The article was ultimately voted down by those in attendance.

"The town made a mistake," Driscoll told Reminder Publications following the meeting, "but I respect their decision."

He said that the subject was a tough one in which to educate people, and noted that most of the opposition of the code came from builders.

"By voting this down we're going to lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars," Driscoll added.

Voters also turned down Articles 22 through 24, which amended currently zoning bylaws to address the definitions of green industry in town. Marilyn Richards, a former member of the Planning Board, said that the current board needs to review the zoning bylaws as a whole, not piecemeal.

Stormwater Bylaw

Article 25, sponsored by the Board of Public Works, asked the town to approve a Massachusetts General Bylaw regarding stormwater management. East Longmeadow is required to develop stormwater bylaws under the Clean Water Act's National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. The goal is to minimize the impact to water resources from municipally-owned stormwater management systems, including storm drains, catch basins, detention ponds and outfalls.

A federal unfunded mandate, the two main points of the bylaw are to regulate construction and post-construction stormwater runoff and to control illicit discharges, such as animal waste, paint thinner, oil and other non-natural items, from entering storm drains and catch basins.

Dan Burack, chair of the Board of Public Works, stated that the bylaw would be enforced by the Department of Public Works (DPW).

Voters chose not to accept the bylaw.

"We're evaluating our options as to where to go next," Sean Kelley, senior project manager for the town's DPW, said after the meeting. "Because we as a town did not pass the ordinance, I have a good feeling the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] will be reviewing our situation and they might considering fining us."

He said East Longmeadow might need to rewrite the proposed bylaw, which would include a lengthy process of adjusting the language and then hosting public hearings on a new proposal. Kelley said he wasn't sure of the timeline for when this subject would be brought before Town Meeting again.