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Editorial: WMECO move bad for community

We can’t imagine there has ever been a time where Franklin County could easily afford to see jobs moved elsewhere. The impact of such decisions don’t remain within the confines of a company or business — they have ramifications in the larger community.

It’s this view of the greater community good that has us questioning the decision made by Western Massachusetts Electric Co. to move its Franklin County work force to Hadley by the end of next year.

At the forefront of the concern is the friction between the two forces at work here: WMECO’s operations/financial considerations and the real-life variables that come into play when it comes to response times when the customers in this rural county lose power.

To the utility company executives, obviously, it all makes sense. According to WMECO, the work center in Greenfield is “vastly under-utilized” and it therefore makes sense to fold the operations in with the Hadley work force. “The trucks will be parked in Hadley, but just because we don’t have a work center in Greenfield doesn’t mean no customer service for the country, WMECO spokeswoman Priscilla Ress has said in a Recorder story.

“We know how to react and provide the proper coverage as needed. We are experts at distributing our work force.”

We don’t doubt that this is true. And with some of the other work center consolidation that WMECO is planning, there is likely to be little if any difference when it comes to travel time and response. But the rural nature of our county, where there is generally no straight and quick route between Point A and Point B, adds travel time under the best conditions. Introduce the chaos created by a storm or some other emergency, and we foresee trouble with utility workers getting to the center and then back out. As the crow flies, the distance between the work center in Hadley and many of the communities in Franklin County may not be much, but ask that crow to take a truck and you’re not getting to take the most direct route.

But it’s not just the impact during an emergency that we’re worried about. Closing the work center in Greenfield will have other impacts. During their work hours, those 20-plus employees are spending money here, whether it’s a meal, gas or other type of shopping. That money goes into the local economy.

The proposal also helps foster the perception that Franklin County isn’t on equal footing when it comes to services. Although WMECO says it will be watching issues of response time and other service-related results coming from the move, over time we suspect that this will become less of a priority, no matter what promises are made now.

Does the adage “Out of sight, out of mind” ring a bell?

From what we can see, this plan doesn’t benefit the community in any way.

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