Friday, August 31, 2007

Some nice pics of wind power in Hull

They've got em on top of the landfill and on the beach. The units generate about 10% of the town's energy needs of 53000 MW/h per year. They plan long term to become completely self-sufficient using these units. It's probably not as viable for Auburn to expect the full amount but certainly something to consider for places like the old landfill or even Packachoag hill.

Thanks to a reader for this link

Interesting point about finances, the unit paid for itself already. With electricity costs on the rise (Auburn HS) they will only be saving more money every year.

Planning the construction of this turbine took about five years. It cost $770,000 and earned back the initial investment, paid by the municipal power company, in about three and a half years. Now that the upfront costs have been recovered, the turbine saves the town $1 million every three and a half years in power it would have to buy from the grid.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Town government - so what?

It reads pretty funny - talking about the article in the T&G about the town moderator appointing several members of one family to the Charter review committee.

Town moderator Charles Baker, who appointed the members says "so what, why not?" in response to the question. The committee will recommend changes to the way town government is structured. These recommendations have real impact on how things get done should they get voted on by town meeting to accept them.

To me it says a lot about what's wrong with at least the communication in our town. So what? I think there are a lot of folks who would say "because it smacks of favoritism and nepotism". Lets look at it objectively.

We've got two husband and wife teams that serve on the school committee and boards of selectmen. You've got developers who are related to BOS members serving on the charter review, also serving on planning, zoning and conservation (potential conflict of interest abound). To the distrusting naysayer public in town all of this is a conspiracy. To a reasonable person it at least appears bad. Whether it actually is or not is a fair question.

But I think towns people deserve a better answer than "so what". In fact that's the attitude of smugness and denial that seems to prevail too often among town officials when dealing with legitimate questions that arise like this. The result is one of the most difficult problems to solve in our community - APATHY. People end up thinking "why bother" and give up trying. I think this attitude has done more damage over time than any other to our quality of life via neglect and procrastination. OK, off the soapbox now ....

On the topic of charter change though I think we need to look at it seriously. We run our town like we're still a sleepy bedroom community of 1930. Why do we have a separate parks department vs rec department or highway surveyor vs tree warden (happens to be the same person now but not always), also why is Engineering separate from Highway?

An equally important question is why is the town building maintenance being run separately for each place? If we had a (DPW) department which served the town I think we could run things more effectively, efficiently and probably save a good deal of money long term in budgets across the whole range of town services. Why does the APD have to call a electrician or plumber separately than the fire department? Why don't the schools at all levels use economies of scale when buying building and maintenance supplies rather than just deal on an individual basis as problems arise? It's again a reactionary stance vs planning proactively again (where have I heard this before).

DPW has been shot down several times in the past though and I expect some resistance to this idea again. Wayne Page is one of the opponents who always speaks loudly against it. Come to think of it he speaks pretty loudly all the time (sorry Wayne - gratuitous cheap shot there ;).

Another change that I think would make a big difference is appointment of a town manager. In other towns like Holden and Shrewsbury, the town manager takes direction from the BOS and drives completion of issues amongst the various department and committees to get things addressed in a timely fashion, administer the finances and execute the wishes of the BOS, who are the elected reps of the people. It would cost some money to do this, but I think it enables delivery of town services more efficiently and effectively than what we have now, which at times appears like finger pointing, passing the buck of responsibility and the creation of little kingdoms among the various departments. It would also take the power of the purse away from the department heads and put it in the hands of a hired professional. I think many departments could use the help, coordination, discipline and focus a town manager could bring.

Here's a link to the existing Auburn charter.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

US Res association doc

If you live in Precinct 2 like I do then you are aware we have a beautiful body of water called Upper Stoneville Reservoir. The large pond or small lake is around 67 acres and is the site of the old town beach called Rotary Beach. The capacity of the waterway is around 500 acre-feet.

I've created a doc to poll interest for the creation of an "association" of residents on US res. It was suggested we do this by Auburn Water District to get better representation of issues affecting US Res. For instance, for things like weeds, water testing and improvements of water quality, state and even federal funds may be available, but you have to have a voice.

Here is the link.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wind for energy in Auburn

There's been a push recently for sources of energy which are renewable, low carbon impact and pollution as well as fossil free for the political impacts. Oil dependence costs us around $781B according to this article from RMI founder Amory Lovins. Around New England wind is one of the potential sources of this type of power. It's clean, and so long as you are high enough near a wind source, will run virtually all the time all year. Solar is also possible although we're a bit susceptible to seasonal cloudiness and lack of light during winter.

In some areas like this one mentioned in Austria, there are 1000s of turbines providing large portions of the energy needs of towns.

Holy Name has recently announced a project which will use wind power. The turbine will be 600kW for which they received a $575,000 grant.

Think of the potential of say the old landfill (the land for which the town owns) or up on Packachoag or AHS, considering the $75K electric bills they've been getting.

There are also systems that average homeowners can use which are becoming more and more affordable.

The one issue that might affect a homeowner as far as bylaws is you need a tower. Well according to our bylaws we've got a very open policy on wind. So long as the tower is short enough to fall within the confines of your property it is allowed under special permit by the Board of Appeals. Special permits by nature allow the activity so long as the conditions are met, unlike variances which require you to demonstrate a hardship of some kind (the onus is on you to prove something).

The conditions set forth by the bylaw are that the tower has enough setback from the lot lines, presumably so that if it falls it doesn't cross over to your neighbors property. The tower for Holy Name stands at over 260 feet. This is a large unit but there are many that are smaller and more affordable ones which can provide 4 10 or 20 kW. By law National Grid has to buy back your excess power so the systems can literally pay for themselves over time.

Here are a couple of businesses who specialize in the area right here in our town:

Friday, August 10, 2007

40B or not to 40B

Barbara Anderson posted a good column on this the other day.

We've definitely got an issue in our town according to the Commonwealth - by state standards we're at only around 3% "affordable" and we need to be 10%.

One of the remedies is to count mobile home park units (really affordable) towards the percentages. Our Rep Paul Frost has proposed this - here's the link. It seems to fit somewhat in that it's housing and it's cheap - it's part of the solution they are trying to afford. So far it's being fought - mainly by predatory 40B developers who like the fact they can make so much $$ off new developments while ignoring local zoning laws so they can build em quick and cheap. Even accounting for this, we're only around 8% - but it's not passed at this point.

It's certainly something that's been brought up as concerns at Planning and Master Plan meetings. The Master Plan even mentions it. There's support for it now among members like Dan Carpenter, who's voiced his opinion in support of 40B apartments in the past. He complains that young people who work in town can't afford to live here. I say then let's try and up their incomes and attack the equation that way.

To me, a regional approach makes more sense. We're right next to Worcester, the second largest city in New England with many affordable apartments. We shouldn't be in the business of trying to out-cheap the city, we'll never do it nor should we. I had to live in the City after college for a time until I could save enough to buy a place here - it was something to strive for and I think makes the town more appealing vs giving someone a cheap place artificially that they won't respect as much.

In any event, we're vulnerable right now to 40B apartment developments, which scare many folks because of the lack of control the town would have. They could literally plop one down in the middle of a bunch of houses and there would be little the town or residents could do, at least according to some officials. It's been used as a scare tactic in the Wallace Ave development to try and gain concessions. I think the best realistic approach is for the town to take the initiative and plan and promote some mixed-use areas with 40B where we decide, before neighborhoods become the target of some 40B developer. If there's so much commercial space vacant maybe it's time to put one on Rt 20 or Rt 12 for instance, near a bus line.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Conservation (for other towns); Auburn and Blackstone watershed

Nice article on some conservation gains nearby in the T&G today. Note it mentions drinking water in Auburn

The 75 acres of tree farm, lawn, meadow, trails and woodland where a restored farmhouse stands and where a brook runs toward Holden Reservoir No. 1 is forever preserved as conservation land.

Yesterday morning, it was the site of a multi-agency celebration of three properties recently set aside by private and government efforts to protect drinking water supplying Worcester, Holden, Paxton, Auburn, Millbury and West Boylston.

Just a little background - the brook I think is Tatnuck, which ends up with Kettle and Dark Brooks (of which I've seen two descriptions in town, one by the golf range and one connecting Dark Brook Res to Lower Stoneville) to drain into the Blackstone.

Here's one map from the Blackstone River Coalition that shows the area.

And another from the Blackstone Headwaters Coalition (at Clark U). More specifically, Kettle and Dark Brook drainage.

Funny I never see our Conservation Commission prominent on any of these issues. We're part of the Blackstone watershed, you'd think they'd be involved, even the AWD since they obtained land for wells on Silver St recently, near Kettle Brook.

Monday, August 6, 2007

It's a surplus!

So what's the deal with Auburn's local aid then? Aren't they getting enough? And why are we still paying the temporary tax increase enacted way back in 1989?!

The T&G suggests the money be spent in part for "unfunded pension liabilities" ie those generous pensions as Barbara Anderson has been talking about. The pensions that don't exist in the private sector and that we can't afford to fund realistically. Then there are the retirement boards who decide the benefits that take trips to Vegas and eat at Emerils. I ate there once on a private trip with family to celebrate an anniversary and it's not cheap - the kind of place a middle class guy like me might afford 1/year or every few for a special occasion! Nice place to eat on the taxpayers tab ... {growl}

Friday, August 3, 2007

What some towns are doing about Open Space

Wow - imagine that, a town conserving open space from development - actually buying land for it too.

HOLDEN— As volunteers and government officials prepare to celebrate their most recent land preservation successes, another group is forming to block sprawl development on key expanses of land.

With much of the land east of Central Massachusetts already covered with buildings, local conservation volunteers and professionals are predicting a rush of development in the center of the state.

To prevent development from overtaking open land, some local residents are urging the hiring of land procurement and preservation specialists to focus on Central Massachusetts.

The plan will be announced during Monday’s celebration, according to Anthony J. Costello of the White Oak Land Conservation Society.

All the pols will be there

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, the White Oak Land Conservation Society, U.S. Forest Service, state Department of Conservation and Recreation, the Worcester Department of Public Works, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs and the Trust for Public Land will come together at 10:30 a.m. Monday

Here's a novel idea

Mr. Crater agrees. “The way I look at it, Central Massachusetts is a beautiful area and we have such value in our little towns .... We have so much to lose here if we’re not careful.”