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Happy fall from all of us at the FRCOG! The shift from summer to fall found us busy with advocacy efforts, celebrating the attainment of new funding to benefit the region, building forward movement regarding several planning efforts, and preparing for some significant staff changes. Take a look below to catch up on what we’ve been up to!

Advocacy
  • In the last quarter staff testified in person and/or writing on several bills and issues of importance to Franklin County and municipalities:
    • Two bills that would permanently codify the option for municipalities to hold fully-remote open meetings. The testimony asked the Legislature to oppose any bill that would require hybrid technology be used for all public meetings
    • A bill requiring rural equity of state grants
    • Creation of a Municipal Building Authority
    • Rural housing needs in advance of issuance of a Housing Bond Bill
    • Two housing bills that would increase local funding options for affordable housing development
    • Legislation that would require private well water quality assessment.
  • The FRCOG, with its RPA partners Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, hosted an evening with MA Director of Rural Affairs, Anne Gobi, who discussed her role and vision for the newly created position with approximately 100 municipal officials from the four westernmost MA counties.
A View Of MA Director Of Rural Affairs Anne Gobi As She Addresses A Crowd At Berkshire Brewing Company. The Image Is Taken From Behind The Crowd.

More Information: Linda Dunlavy at [email protected] or ext. 103.

Climate Change & Land Use

Climate Resiliency Planning for Franklin County Municipalities

The FRCOG worked with several Franklin County municipalities to move climate resilient planning forward this past quarter:

  • The Town of Montague was recently awarded a grant to pilot the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program’s updated “MVP 2.0” process. MVP 2.0 builds on the climate vulnerability preparedness work communities have done to date by revisiting resilience priorities with a focus on equity. FRCOG staff are working with the Town to identify and recruit a Core Team that will be composed of Town staff and community members who have strong connections to those residents that will be most impacted by climate change. For the next year, the team will work together to expand community involvement in the process of identifying resilience priorities and resilience projects.
    • Additionally, FRCOG staff completed the plan’s draft technical memos for the Transportation, Climate Change & Energy, and Housing chapters of the Montague Five Villages: One Future Comprehensive Plan.
  • Congratulations to the Towns of Buckland and Conway on their new MVP Action Grants. FRCOG staff will assist both towns with their projects. In Buckland, FRCOG staff will work with landowners in the watershed to engage them in discussions about climate resilient management practices on private lands and develop an informational packet that could be used by landowners in other watersheds. In Conway, FRCOG staff will assist with education and outreach projects related to making the South River watershed more resilient to climate change, starting with a Harvest Celebration on Saturday October 21st at the ballfields on Academy Hill Road. A consultant team will complete a flood modeling and resilience analysis of Conway Center, and then identify projects that could be implemented to mitigate flood hazards.
  • FRCOG began updating New Salem’s Open Space and Recreation Plan (OSRP) with the Town’s OSRP Committee at the end of this summer. Work continues on the Bernardston, Rowe, and Shelburne OSRPs (summaries of several drafted chapters of the Rowe OSRP have been posted in the Rowe StoryMap). The Wendell Open Space Committee finalized their 2023 update and it is now under review by the Division of Conservation Services.

More Information: Climate Resilience and Land Use page; Kimberly Noake MacPhee at [email protected] or ext. 130.

Community Health

Age Friendly Action Plan Release Planned for 11/16

Save the date for the launch of the Age and Dementia Friendly Franklin County and North Quabbin Action Plan. After a three-year planning process, LifePath and FRCOG are ready to launch the new Age- and Dementia Friendly Action Plan. Drawn from surveys of over 2000 residents, focus groups, and input from numerous organizations, reports, and assessments, the Plan sets goals over the next five years in eight different domains, including civic engagement, health care, social inclusion, housing, transportation, and more. Working on these priority strategies will help our community be both a better place to age, and a better place to live overall. Please RSVP and join us to learn more.

More Information: FRCOG website Age and Dementia Friendly Communities page; Meg Ryan at [email protected], or ext. 158.

COVID and Flu Vaccination Season is Here

The new COVID vaccine is recommended for anyone over 6 months. To make access easier for our rural residents, FRCOG staff coordinated with public health nurses around the region to schedule and promote a series of state-supported COVID and flu clinics, which are happening across the county in schools and senior centers. A frequently updated listing of the clinics and local pharmacies carrying the COVID vaccine and how to access it are on our website. While you are at the COVID section of the FRCOG website, take a look also at the updated pages on treatment, testing, and what to do if you test positive.  Please feel free to share these pages with your friends and neighbors looking for information.

More Information: FRCOG website COVID-19 topics page; Phoebe Walker at [email protected], or ext. 102.

Economic Development

Digital Equity Planning and Implementation

FRCOG staff are supporting the Massachusetts Broadband Institute’s (MBI) efforts to develop statewide digital equity and broadband plans to guide the use of federal funds coming to the Commonwealth. According to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, “digital equity is a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy.” FRCOG’s recent work included hosting the MBI’s October 3rd Listening Session and conducting a focus group at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center, as well as promoting the MBI’s Statewide Digital Equity Survey, which asks households about their internet access and usage, and helping organizations complete an online Digital Equity Asset Inventory to catalog existing programs that help residents access and use the internet. Data collected will also be used to inform local planning efforts.

FRCOG has been selected by the City of Greenfield to complete a Digital Equity Plan, as funded by the MBI. A Community Meeting and focus groups will be convened in the coming months to help inform the plan. A similar planning process is also underway for Montague, Whately, and for an 8-town regional plan (Charlemont, Colrain, Leyden, New Salem, Northfield, Orange, Warwick and Wendell).

More Information: FRCOG website Municipal Digital Equity Planning Services page; Jessica Atwood at [email protected] or ext. 123.

A Young Woman Sits Next To An Elder Gentleman At A Computer Station In A Library; Both Are Smiling As She Teaches Him Computer Use.
Emergency Preparedness

Fire Extinguisher Training Equipment

WRHSAC has established a Bullseye Digital Fire Extinguisher training kit which is now available for loan on a free, first-come, first-serve basis. This training kit allows fire extinguisher training to be conducted in any setting fires actually occur – indoors, office buildings, schools, hospitals and more. The system is digital, does not use any dry-chemical or CO2 extinguishers, so there is no messy clean up. The realistic laser driven extinguishers and fire simulation panel simulate and respond like real extinguishers and fire for heightened training intensity.

The equipment is hosted by Westfield State University Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response. First responder agencies, municipalities, schools and businesses throughout western Mass may borrow the equipment to conduct training in their agencies or communities.

More Information: Raine Brown at [email protected] or ext. 138.

Shared Municipal Services

FY24 Collective Purchasing

The Collective Purchasing Program provides bidding, contracting, and troubleshooting services to municipalities, districts, and non-profit agencies. The Purchasing Program can save participants money by volume discount buying. We also save time and avoid potential legal risks by assuring that legally-required bidding processes are properly followed.

  • Winter Highway Bids have opened and we are in process of awarding for October 1 start date.  Prices have settled from the volatility of the past few years.  We are seeing more and more towns switch from regular rock salt and sand to organically treated salt which works at much lower temperatures and require less product to do their job.
  • Contracts are also being awarded to 12 vendors for various Water Treatment Chemicals utilized by participating water and wastewater treatment facilities.  Prices and supply chain issues have settled out, and the contracts will be effective October 1.
  • FRCOG has taken the lead on a county-wide School Bus Transportation bid for up to a five-year contract. Bids are expected to be opened in December for the 2024-2025 school year.

More Information: FRCOG website Collective Purchasing program page; Andrea Woods at [email protected] or ext. 104.

Procurement Staff Andrea And Ellen With A Box Of Sealed Bids In Manila Envelopes. They Are Pulloing Envelopes Form The Box And Laying Them Out On A Table As They Prepare To Open The Sealed Bids.

Municipal Officials Trainings

Earlier in October, FRCOG Director of Municipal Services Bob Dean teamed up with Northfield Select board member Barbara (Bee) Jacque to offer “Select Board 101: a discussion about the ins and outs of being a select board member”.  This online presentation & discussion offered an overview of Select Board member responsibilities and provided insights from long-serving members, while giving new members from around the region a chance to meet each other and to ask questions.

View the 2023 Select Board 101 materials.

October is National Cybersecurity month, which is as good a reason as any to offer a reminder that all materials from our 2021 municipal cybersecurity training series remain both relevant and available on our website.

View the 2021 Municipal Cybersecurity materials.

More Information: Bob Dean at [email protected] or ext. 108.

Transportation

Safe Streets for All Grant (SS4A)

The FRCOG has been awarded funding to develop a regional transportation safety action plan for Franklin County through the new Federal Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program. The funding was awarded as part of a collaborative application submitted by the three rural regional planning agencies in Massachusetts: the FRCOG, the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission (NP&EDC), and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

While each RPA will compile a separate safety action plan, the joint project was intended to facilitate discussion and collaboration between the rural RPAs about safety solutions geared to rural transportation settings. The FRCOG is currently soliciting a consultant to assist with the implementation of the project through a request for proposals process. We anticipate the work of the selected consultant will begin on December 1st, 2023, and be completed by August 1st, 2025. By developing a safety action plan the regions will become eligible to apply for project implementation funding through the SS4A program in the future.

More Information: Transportation Planning page; Beth Giannini at [email protected] or ext. 125.

Road Safety for Vulnerable Users  

FRCOG Transportation Planning staff are completing an assessment of road safety for vulnerable users, including drivers over age 65 and all bicyclists and pedestrians. The final report includes an analysis of data from crashes involving vulnerable road users and identifies locations where vulnerable users are most at risk of being involved in a crash. These results will be combined with mapping and ranking of the most hazardous intersections in Franklin County. Moving forward, this work will be used to make recommendations to improve safety for vulnerable users at intersections.

More Information: Laurie Scarbrough at [email protected] or ext. 139.

Staff Updates

Jessica Atwood, Director of Planning

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Jessica Atwood as our new Director of Planning. A long-standing employee of the FRCOG, Jessica brings a wealth of experience and expertise to our agency, and we are excited to welcome her to this new role with our team. As Director of Planning, Jessica will oversee the planning and development initiatives for our region, ensuring that the FRCOG continues to work towards a prosperous and sustainable Franklin County. Congratulations, Jessica!

Peggy Sloan headshot.

Jessica’s appointment comes as a result of the retirement of outgoing Planning Director Peggy Sloan. Peggy has made significant contributions to the FRCOG and Franklin County during her 30-year tenure. She has brought millions of dollars of federal and state funding to the region for assessment and clean-up of sites potentially contaminated with hazardous materials, for sustainability efforts, for forestry preservation, and much more. She has worked in every Franklin County municipality helping municipal planning boards with zoning and subdivision regulations, and the land use impacts of new laws and phenomena like legalization of marijuana and expansion of short-term rentals. Her dedication and leadership have been instrumental in shaping our regional planning efforts, and we wish her all the best in her retirement.

Jasmine Ward, a Franklin County resident, has joined the Cooperative Public Health Service team as a Regional Health Inspector. Jasmine has worked for both the Greenfield and Northampton Health Departments and joins us with almost 10 years of Public Health experience. Welcome, Jasmine!

Nicole Krantz joined the FRCOG as the new Digital Equity and Planning Intern in September.  She is a graduate student at UMass earning her Masters in Regional Planning. Nicole will be helping the Planning Department with digital equity planning, housing planning, and comprehensive planning. Welcome, Nicole!

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