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Well, we made it through another winter; we hope the coming of spring finds you happy and healthy.

In early 2024, we worked to represent the best interests of Franklin County and rural communities throughout the Commonwealth regarding a variety of bills, and providing education and context to statewide leaders regarding rural needs. We made progress on a variety of planning endeavors to advance climate resilience and emergency preparedness in the region, and now are looking forward to initiatives and events happening in the spring months of 2024.

Read more below to catch up on what we’ve been up to!

Advocacy
  • Staff are providing guidance to the members of the Massachusetts Promote Prevent Commission on how the state could most effectively allocate the $16.5 million (plus an additional $4 million annually) from cannabis tax revenue in the state’s Community Behavioral Health Promotion and Prevention Trust Fund.
  • Staff have resubmitted testimony in support of the Affordable Homes Act (the Housing Bond Bill), and are working closely with legislators and the Western MA Housing Coalition to pursue top priority amendments to the Bill to protect rural interests and equity.
  • As part of a group of rural stakeholders and the Rural Policy Advisory Commission, the FRCOG facilitated and submitted comments to the Legislative Rural Caucus on the Economic Development Bond Bill, “Mass Leads: An Act Relative to Strengthening Massachusetts’ Economic Leadership”, to ensure rural interests and needs are represented.

MassDOT Secretary Visits Franklin County

FRCOG hosted the MassDOT Secretary, Monica Tibbits-Nutt, and her staff along with our local Massachusetts legislative delegation on Monday, March 18th.  Her visit was an opportunity to highlight the innovative endeavors that the FRCOG and FRTA have accomplished for the transportation system over the last several years. This work includes the establishment of fixed-route weekend bus service, the FRTA Access micro transit program, municipal culvert inventories, drainage culvert right-sizing protocols, complete streets assessments, collective purchasing, and more.

FRCOG staff and Franklin County;s legislative delegation pose with staff from MassDOT on the first floor of the Transit Center.

The visit was also an opportunity to explain the unique conditions and constraints that our rural region faces. The FRCOG demonstrated these conditions with a field trip on a FRTA bus on local gravel roads and to various planned or needed transportation improvements. The Secretary and her staff saw first-hand that the Franklin County roads and sidewalks are often different from more urbanized areas of Massachusetts and that funding flexibility is needed for communities of different sizes.

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

Climate Change & Land Use

319 Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPS) Regional Coordinator Program

In our efforts to foster collaboration and support healthy watersheds in Franklin County, the FRCOG convened a meeting with local land trusts. During this meeting, the FRCOG outlined its role in furthering land trusts’ conservation efforts and assisting with securing grant funds. This support aims to empower land trusts to initiate and expand projects targeting NPS reduction and watershed health.

FRCOG staff have continued to develop watershed-based plans (WBPs) and support the work of a regional partner in developing agriculture-related WBPs. WBPs for Keyup Brook in Erving and Lake Wyola in Shutesbury and Wendell were submitted for final DEP review. Staff continue to develop WBPs for the Bloody Brook in Deerfield and South River in Ashfield and Conway, building on ongoing work in those watersheds. The Massachusetts Association of Conservation Districts is supervising the development of a WBP for the lower Deerfield River mainstem. All of these plans will be finished in the fall.

More Information: FRCOG website Climate Resilient Rivers and Watersheds page; Kimberly Noake MacPhee at [email protected] or ext. 130.

Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Plans

Buckland’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Action Grant

FRCOG staff are continuing to work with Buckland’s Climate Change Coordinator Alison Cornish, GZA GeoEnvironmental, and Field Geology Services on their MVP Action Grant, which is funding the design of resiliency projects, river corridor mapping, and community outreach. GZA is currently working conceptual designs and modeling to aid in the design of a climate resilient replacement for the Route 112 Bridge, and to stabilize the eroding bank at Clessons River Farm. This spring, Field Geology Services, FRCOG staff, and Alison Cornish will schedule visits with landowners throughout the watershed to hear about how they have been impacted by flooding, and discuss potential avenues for climate adaptation.

Montague MVP 2.0 Pilot Project

Over the winter, FRCOG staff worked with the MVP 2.0 Core Team, consisting of community liaisons and Town Staff, to complete Climate Resilience Trainings and an Equity & Climate Justice Learning Series. These trainings prepared the Core Team for the work of uncovering social resilience and revisiting the town’s resilience priorities through community engagement with the various residents in Montague facing particular vulnerability to climate change. The Core Team is currently developing a community engagement plan for this purpose. Community engagement will likely be ongoing through June or July, when the Core Team seeks feedback on climate-resilience projects.

Community Health

Five-Year Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) Kicks Off

Staff hosted a public meeting in February to launch the new 2024-2028 CHIP, which identifies 14 priorities for health improvement over the coming five years. The priorities are drawn from needs assessments, surveys, and data from many different sectors, including youth, older adults, housing, health care, and more. Review a list of the 14 priorities.

Logo Of Chip With Gears

Members of the CHIP Network met in April to hear progress thus far on three priorities: increasing access to SNAP benefits for local residents, increasing understanding of air quality issues, and improving digital equity. The group also reviewed progress on the Network’s legislative priorities.

A group of local residents and organizations are meeting to learn more about the challenges people in our region face in getting a license, learning to drive, and maintaining cars. The group will be working for 4 months to identify priorities for programming and policy change over the next five-year CHIP cycle.

More Information: FRCOG website Community Health Improvement Plan page; Jen Audley at [email protected] or ext. 126.

2024 Youth Resource List

The Partnership for Youth just finished updating their Youth Resource List. The current list is available with clickable links online, and the printed version will be available free to all shortly.

View the online list.

More Information: FRCOG website Partnership for Youth page; Naomi Bledsoe at [email protected] or ext. 144.

Partnership for Youth staff pose for a group photo.
Economic Development

Commonwealth’s Economic Development Plan

The Healey-Driscoll Administration has released their statewide economic development plan, “Team Massachusetts: Leading Future Generations.” The plan will guide the work and funding priorities of the MA Executive Office of Economic Development and economic development related agencies over the next four years. The plan identifies areas to address, including: housing and transportation challenges, investing in infrastructure, retaining & attracting talent, championing the story of why the Commonwealth is a good place for business, and supporting key clusters, such as climatetech (their new term for the sector that encompasses clean energy, renewable energy, and energy efficiency) and tourism & culture.

One of the actions the plan specifically mentions is creating a new “front door” to help businesses access resources. The plan also specifically mentions the need to uplift rural communities by unlocking access to funding and resources. This plan is the foundation for the Healey-Driscoll Administration’s economic development bond bill legislation, which was released in February.

More Information: Jessica Atwood at [email protected] or ext. 123.

Emergency Preparedness

Regional Emergency Preparedness Planning

In the early months of 2024, staff in the Emergency Preparedness Program further developed draft regional coordination plans by meeting with key stakeholders to gain feedback. Franklin County Regional Emergency Planning Committee members have aided staff in the development of an internal FRCOG Preparedness Plan that addresses how FRCOG will train and deploy internal staff in support of regional response coordination, a Franklin County Emergency Coordination Plan, which is driven by an updated Concept of Operations (COP) for a FRCOG-managed Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC).

Late in this quarter, EPP received a Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grant from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. This grant will allow the county to hold a functional exercise focusing on first response to a significant incident involving hazardous materials. The exercise, currently in the planning phase, is scheduled for spring 2024.

More Information: FRCOG website Regional Emergency Planning Committee page; Dan Nietsche at [email protected] or ext. 110.

WRHSAC to Offer Spring Conference

Following a school shooting or ideological attack, we often wonder if there were warning signs that we missed. We think we know what a “typical” shooter looks like, but is there even such a thing as a “typical” shooter? Who are these people, and what are the psychological dynamics driving their behavior? What factors mitigate risks, and when do they deserve a closer look? What are the psychological barriers to reporting or investigating suspicious behaviors?

Join Dr. Peter Langman, a leading expert on this topic, on Monday, May 13 at UMass Amherst to learn more about perpetrators of mass attacks: who they are, what drives them, and what warning signs to look for.

In this full-day conference, Dr. Langman will use real case studies to illustrate pathways to violence, protective factors, and reasons that suspicious behaviors are often overlooked. The conference is free of charge and open to the public and is particularly geared to those working in law enforcement, first responders, K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals, public health, and other public-facing disciplines.

More Information: FRCOG website Western Regional Homeland Security Advisory Council page; Raine Brown at [email protected] or ext. 138.

Shared Municipal Services

Wage and Salary Survey Expanded

FRCOG staff surveyed each Franklin County town and city (and this year, 12 municipalities in surrounding counties) for municipal officials’ compensation and benefits packages figures. Staff then compiled the detailed results, and published the data, along with municipal demographics, in the two-part FRCOG Municipal Wage and Salary Survey. The Survey provides salary numbers for common core municipal positions—elected, appointed, and contracted—including town officials and administration, public works, health and inspection, library, fire, police, and others. Benefit information includes leave time (vacation, sick, personal, longevity); health insurance eligibility; dental plan eligibility; retirement health insurance; inclusion in a retirement system; and percentages of these benefits funded by the municipality.

Select boards, finance, ways and means, and personnel committees, among others, use the annual survey for comparison and decision-making when drafting budgets and hiring personnel. City and town officials recently requested expansion of the survey to municipalities outside Franklin County for a more comprehensive comparison.

More Information: FRCOG website Municipal Resources page; Rebekah Boyd at [email protected] or ext. 100

Transportation

2024 Franklin County Bike Breakfast

As part of Bay State Bike Month in May, the FRCOG will host its annual Bike Breakfast on Tuesday, May 14th, from 8 – 9:30 a.m., at the John W. Olver Transit Center. This annual event brings the local bicycle community together to learn about new developments in cycling around Franklin County, and provides an opportunity to discuss ideas and/or issues around bicycling with FRCOG Planning Staff. This year’s event will also be an opportunity for participants to learn about the progress made on the update to the Franklin County Regional Bike Plan, which FRCOG staff has been working on, and will continue to work on, through the summer.  

More Information: Jack Carolan at [email protected] or ext. 134.

Traffic Counting Season to Begin

Traffic counting season is about to begin. The FRCOG operates and maintains traffic counting equipment to conduct local traffic counts at no charge to the towns in Franklin County or to support planning studies. The automatic traffic recorders can collect vehicle classification and speed data at most locations including dirt and gravel roads. The Traffic Counting Program has the capacity to conduct intersection turning movement counts as well as off-road bicycle and pedestrian counts. The count season typically runs between May and October. Traffic count requests can be made in writing (mail or email) to Laurie Scarbrough, Senior Transportation Planning Engineer. Additionally, historic traffic count data can be accessed at any time by visiting: http://mhd.ms2soft.com/tcds/tsearch.asp?loc=Mhd&mod.

More Information: FRCOG website Traffic Counting page; Laurie Scarbrough at [email protected] or ext. 139.

Transportation Planner Audrey Boraski Setups Safety Cones On A Roadway To Prepare For Traffic Counts.

Staff Updates

We are happy to welcome Naomi Bledsoe as our new (and first-ever) Youth Engagement Coordinator. Naomi has spent the last six years coordinating the Juvenile Diversion Program at the Northwest District Attorney’s Office.  Naomi started in mid-February, and has already dived in head-first in launching our new Youth Leadership Program.  Welcome, Naomi, we’re glad to have you with us!

Congratulations to Regional Health Agent Kurt Schellenberg, who has attained the Registered Sanitarian license after a year of study. The RS is a required workforce credential for Health Agents in Massachusetts.

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