Only water between Second Franklin and this ‘island’ of precinct

BELCHERTOWN — If you think it’s a long way from Gill to Templeton, across the breadth of the newly reconfigured Second Franklin State Representative’s District, think about how redistricting feels in Precinct A of this Hampshire County town.

There’s no argument that the most recent redistricting process was the most open process, with the most public participation ever, says Stanley Rosenberg, the Senate chair of the committee that was charged with the seemingly impossible post-Census task of realigning which communities are in which of the 160 House districts representing 40,938 residents.

There’s no argument that Belchertown — which is, like all towns, supposed to be contiguous to the rest of its district — doesn’t exactly touch the rest of the Athol-Orange-centered district, which also includes Gill, Erving, Warwick, New Salem, and Wendell in Franklin County, plus the Worcester County towns of Royalston, Phillipston, Templeton and Petersham and includes part of Belchertown.

It’s only Quabbin Reservoir that connects the 2,311 Precinct A residents with the rest of the district farther south and west. So, who’s to blame those Belchertown voters if they feel a little disconnected when they cast ballots Tuesday in Belchertown High School Gym?

“It does seem pretty weird,” says Joan Copperman, who lives in that “rural suburban” part of town and has seen amid plenty of lawn signs for Obama, Romney, Brown and Warren maybe three for Susannah Lee, the Republican candidate from Athol challenging freshman incumbent Rep. Denise Andrews, an Orange Democrat. And while the candidates have knocked on her door and have shown up at the library to meet potential voters, she’s heard nothing from independent candidate Richard Schober of Templeton.

“They’re definitely making an effort in this end of district to make their presence known,” yet Copperman, like several of her neighbors in the northeastern part of town who were interviewed for this story, added “We do feel a little bit out of place in this district.”

Belchertown, largely a bedroom community of nearly 10,000 at the crossroads of Routes 202 and 9, pulls west, with some residents commuting south on Route 9 toward Palmer and Ware, south on 202 toward Holyoke and Chicopee, or “north” on Route 9 to Amherst and Hadley.

Even Ludlow, where the town’s other state representative, Democrat Thomas Petrolatti hails from, seems much closer. It’s just one community over, in fact, and Copperman’s children have been on the soccer team there. And even though the current representative for half the town — Democrat Stephen Kulik — comes from worlds away in Worthington, his district is at least connected through neighboring Pelham.

(Greenfield, which has been in the Second Franklin District, will now be represented by someone from far off Peru, Paul Mark. That’s in Berkshire County, not South America.)

But not many people in even this part of Belchertown have much business to transact in Orange and Athol, up 202.

“That’s a bit of a hike,” says Susan Shea-Brissette, who points about a mile down the road to Quabbin Reservoir as the only thing her town has in common with Athol and Orange. All that connects them is water, plenty of trees, wildlife “and dead towns” that lie far beneath the reservoir.

“There’s a hole there,” said Alan Weiss, as he looked at a map of the new district. “I don’t know a lot of people who go in that northwestern direction. That peninsula, if you look, is part of the Quabbin, and devoid of population. We’re an island, created by the Quabbin. It’s a weak link — there’s no other way to put it.”

Maybe a weak link, but an allowable one to work the difficult numerical magic of redistricting, according to Kulik, who was a member of the redistricting committee. And aside from this unusual three-county district, there are others with water links. Take the Second Hampshire District represented by John Scibak of South Hadley. There, it’s the Connecticut River that connects two of his towns, Hadley and Easthampton.

William Laramee says he’s seen campaign literature for the three-way race that seems to be going on far away, in the Second Franklin District. But he’s been more interested in the presidential and the U.S. senatorial election, which seems somehow closer.

Between his part of Belchertown and the activity in the Orange-Athol area, he said, seems mostly like water and deer. “And they can’t vote.”

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