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Artists on Ice; Historic Holyoke Property Faces Fatal Deadline; Warren Joins Effort to Overturn Citizens United; Bill Against Fracking Moves Forward

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013
photo courtesy of savethefarrmansion.org

Artists on Ice

If you’re an ice sculptor, a chance to move your work to the level of public art may be opening for you at this year’s Greenfield Winter Carnival Ice Walk. Send an original design and a short biography to the Greenfield Recreation Department by Dec. 18. Each sculptor will be given two 300-pound blocks of ice and white illuminated boxes two feet high, four feet wide and four feet deep to mount his/her work. Designs should have winter motifs and be, says the GRC, “appropriate for public art.” Artists who want their work to be illuminated with a particular color should send that information in with the design.

Carving day will be Jan. 31 and the carnival runs from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. The GRC is hoping to enlist as many sculptors as possible, depending on the number of available sponsorships. A thousand dollars in prize money will be distributed between three winners to be chosen by spectators’ votes, and the sculptures will be on display as long as weather permits. Designs and bios should be sent to Greenfield Recreation Department, 20 Sanderson St., Greenfield, Mass. 01301 or e-mailed to christym@greenfield-ma.gov.•

—SK

 

Historic Holyoke Property Faces Fatal Deadline

By Maureen Turner

It looks as if time is running out for Holyoke’s historic Farr Mansion, which could face a wrecking ball after next week.

In June, the city’s Historical Commission voted unanimously to impose a six-month delay on plans by the Holyoke YMCA to demolish the building at 399 Appleton St. The Y, which bought the building in December of 2011 for $55,000 (about one-third of its $167,100 valuation, as determined by the city’s assessors), wants to use the land to create a parking lot. The demolition delay expires on Dec. 18.

Neighborhood residents and historic preservationists have been fighting that plan, noting the significance of the turn-of-the-20th-century Queen Anne-style brick house, once the home of Herbert Marshall Farr, who co-owned a woven-fabric manufacturing company in the city. The mansion, which was eventually converted to an office building in the 1940s, has been vacant for several years. In 2012, the nonprofit group Preservation Massachusetts named the house to its list of “most endangered historic resources” in the state.

Opponents of the Y’s plan have held regular stand-outs and collected signatures on a petition calling for the mansion to be preserved. The group also identified a potential alternative use for the Farr Mansion: Stephen Bosco, who owns other properties in the city, offered to buy the building for the same price the Y paid for it and then renovate it, creating a ground-floor café with office space above. The Y, however, declined Bosco’s offer.

Mayor Alex Morse issued a public statement calling the Y’s decision to reject that offer “disappointing,” and adding, “My hope is that the Y will reconsider their position and meet with the developer to find a plan to work for everyone.”

Kathy Viens, the Y’s executive director, did not responded to questions from the Advocate. In August, she sent the newspaper a prepared statement in which she noted the organization’s commitment to improving the health of Holyoke residents and said that a growth in membership had created the need for more parking space: “[O]ur members are constantly expressing their frustration at the need for more, safe off-street parking,” the statement said. “Our current number of parking spaces is not enough to serve our 4,500 members during peak hours. …

“We’ve evaluated many options to address the need for parking so people can improve their overall health,” Viens’ statement continued. “This solution is ideal as it is adjacent to our facility across a not too busy street and within eyesight of our main entrance. This is especially important for aging adults and families with young children.”

The YMCA will still need city approval for a zoning change to build a parking lot, said Olivia Mausel, chairwoman of the Holyoke Historical Commission. She’d like to see the Y apply for that change before knocking down the mansion, she said, although it’s under no legal obligation to do so once the demolition delay expires. Still, she noted, the Y could end up knocking down the building, then not securing the permission it needs to build the lot. “The cart is before the horse right now,” Mausel said.

Daphne Board, who lives across the street from the Y and has been a leader in the Save the Farr Mansion group, described the proposed café as a “huge bonus” for the YMCA, saying it would provide a place for members to go before or after their visits to the Y or while their kids are at programs there. It would also be a nice addition to the neighborhood and enhance safety by creating more foot traffic and activity in the area.

With the demolition delay about to expire and no indication that the YMCA will change its position, neighbors don’t have much recourse left. Still, Board said, “I’m always hopeful that they’ll change their minds. … I’m still sort of in disbelief that they want to tear this building down.”

Mausel, too, would love to see the building become a café—which, she noted, would generate property taxes for the city. (The Y, as a nonprofit organization, is exempt from property taxes.) “We wish they would have a change of heart and say, ‘OK, we’ll sell it,’” Mausel said. “But the Y is just so focused on this lot that it’s like a laser focus—nothing else will do.”

 

Armory Looks at the Season of Peace During Time of War

The Springfield Armory National Historic Site hosts a free program that looks at Christmas celebrations during wartime on Sunday, Dec. 15, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

The program begins with a talk by Ranger Susan Ashman, in the museum’s theater, on how armory workers celebrated Christmas during World War II, followed by a tour, with refreshments and music, of the Commanding Officer’s House, which will be decorated for the holiday.

In an announcement of the event, Armory historian Richard Colton offers a taste of what the program will cover: “During WWII, Springfield Armory celebrated Christmas with time off from Christmas Eve through Christmas Day. Office and shop parties were held, as well, both at the Armory and in downtown hotels. But with wartime, the somber realities of the cost of total war steadily showed itself as critical materials and personnel were increasingly engaged to fight the Axis powers. Soon, even Christmas trees were stripped of their aluminum tinsel strips and glass to be replaced with homemade substitutes. Before long, popular Christmas music also changed, reflecting separation and longing [for] loved ones as in ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’ and ‘White Christmas.’”

 

Indebted to Occupy

The Occupy Wall Street movement, and its related demonstrations in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, may seem a thing of the past. But an Occupy-born effort called Strike Debt continues to make strides toward greater economic justice, one dollar and debt collection at a time.

Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt, announced its third purchase—and subsequent forgiveness—of $13.5 million in collective medical debt earlier this month. According to the group’s website (www.strikedebt.org), this recent purchase abolished the debt accounts, ranging from $50 to more than $200,000, of more than 2,600 individuals living in 45 states. “These individuals will no longer be hounded into paying this debt,” the group said.

Launched late last year, Strike Debt aims not only to forgive individual debt but also to shine light on what it calls the “predatory” business of debt collection. Due to government deregulation of the finance industry, the buying and selling of debt is now legal. “Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors,” the project’s website (www.rollingjubilee.org) explains. “The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities.”

According to Rolling Jubilee, more than three of every four American households are in debt, one in every seven Americans is currently being pursued by a debt collector, and more than 60 percent of all bankruptcies are caused by medical illness. “It is legal to trade in people’s misfortune,” the website notes.

The campaign has raised $633,000 thus far and will continue accepting donations toward debt forgiveness through the end of this year. At that time “new tactics” will be explored and executed, though money collected toward debt forgiveness will continue to serve that purpose.•

 

Warren Joins Effort to Overturn Citizens United

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has signed on as a co-sponsor of a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial decisions in the Citizens United v. FEC and Buckley v. Valeo cases, which have allowed unprecedented levels of secret money into the political campaign system.

Late last month,Warren joined as a co-sponsor of a bill filed by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) that would restore to Congress and the states the authority to regulate campaign finance, including setting limits on contributions. With Warren officially on board, the entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation has now endorsed the amendment effort.

In the House, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, whose district includes much of the Valley, has filed a bill that mirrors Udall’s Senate bill. McGovern is also the lead sponsor of a “People’s Rights Amendment” that asserts that corporations should not be accorded the same constitutional rights as people. McGovern has worked closely with the Amherst-based Free Speech for People (www.freespeechforpeople.org), which, in its own words, “works to challenge the misuse of corporate power and restore republican democracy to the people.” (See “Bucking Citizens United,” Jan. 29, 2013, www.valleyadvocate.com.)•

—MT

 

Bill Against Fracking Moves Forward

An anti-fracking bill filed by state rep Peter Kocot of Northampton, together with Rep. Denise Provost of Somerville, has now advanced through the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. The bill, H.788, would bar fracking in Massachusetts for at least a decade. More than 11,000 people signed a petition supporting the passage of H.788 that was delivered to the Joint Committee as part of its deliberation process.

The bill still has to pass the Massachusetts House and Senate and be signed by the governor. But Kocot and Provost are pleased with its progress. In a press release, Provost said, “All you have to do is look at the overlap of shale and water resources in the Pioneer Valley, and you know we cannot allow fracking—or its toxic waste—to come to Massachusetts.” Kocot added in the same release, “Our state government must do everything it can to protect our drinking water supplies. This bill will help to ensure that the health and prosperity of our communities is maintained.”

The New York Times has reported that fracking “carries significant environmental risk” and that the wastewater produced in the process “contains radioactivity at levels... far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for... treatment plants to handle.”

State geologists in Massachusetts have said that the natural gas content of the shale basin that reaches from Connecticut northward through the Pioneer Valley likely has so little gas that no firm would invest in exploration here. But industry spokespeople have suggested that exploration might take place here, and anti-fracking activists point out that legislation needs to be in place before any industry activity would begin.•

 

Fort River Farm of Hadley recently earned certification from Animal Welfare Approved, a nonprofit organization based in Alexandria, Va., for the practices it uses in raising its herd of black Angus beef cattle. Fort River Farm is part of a lively industry in this region that produces pasture-raised meat.

According to its website, Animal Welfare Approved “audits, certifies and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards, outdoors on pasture or range.”

The organization’s standards for beef cattle are comprehensive, ranging from how the health of the herd is maintained to breeding practices, diet and housing, with the overall goal of ensuring the cattle’s “social interaction, comfort, and physical and psychological wellbeing.”

Animal Welfare Approved is certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the ISO Guide 65 program, a voluntary process that makes sure, according to the department, that third-party groups are “competent and reliable” in their efforts to assess “livestock, meat, seed, or other agricultural products or services.”

In a press release announcing the certification, Laurie Cuervas and Bruce Jenks, who manage Fort River Farm’s herd of cattle, said, “There is nothing more important to us than the health and safety of our animals. ... We want to share how dedicated we are to our farm and animals and be a benchmark for others who would like to create the same model.”

Fort River Farm is the third farm in Hampshire County to earn recognition from Animal Welfare Approved, joining Kinne Brook Farm in Worthington and Manda Farm in Plainfield.•

—BL

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