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In The Arena

In the Arena: Becoming a bigger mess

I’m no expert on real estate transactions, but if you are planning to buy a property and you wind up banned from setting foot on it, that’s a pretty good indication that things aren’t going well.

That is exactly the position Greenfield finds itself following last week’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing, which ended rather abruptly with the town getting slapped with a “no trespass” order. This means no Greenfield official can enter the property until the town takes ownership, something that probably won’t occur until summer.

“We were notified that no town activities could occur on that site, which meant the Recreation Department couldn’t hold T-ball games, that sort of thing,” Greenfield Mayor Bill Martin said. “It was a bit of a surprise.”

Martin believes the ban extends only to the town and not the Greenfield Minor League, which still holds a $1 per year lease with the Lunt family to use the fields each spring and summer. So far, GML events have gone on without incident while the town, state and court try to untangle a transaction that seems to have been hung up by a variety of factors related to the level of environmental contamination that has drifted off the site.

Martin had originally said that the first round of off-site testing showed the level of contamination was within an acceptable range. That does not appear now to be the case.

“What’s happened is that the standards for contaminated compounds has changed, so now our measurements have revealed that we don’t meet those new standards,” Martin said.

Martin says the discovery of the higher TCE levels has triggered the involvement of the Attorney General’s office, which has yet to issue a “covenant not to sue,” a legal indemnification protecting the town against potential lawsuits related to off-site contamination.

Without that covenant, there is no deal, and Martin says the AG has informed Greenfield that no such approval is likely to occur, if at all, for at least 90 days, putting off any potential closing until July at the earliest.

Further complicating matters, according to Martin, was the seller’s request for financial reimbursement from the town for expenses incurred during the delay.

“One request was to put taxes in abeyance and we can’t do that,” Martin said. “We may go back to the council for some additional money, but the AG’s office is involved and they want more specifics on the spread of the contamination.”

Martin says wherever that leads, it is going to be up to the town to clean it up, even if the sale doesn’t go through.

“When it was just on the site, we had a plan to clean it up,” Martin said. “If it is off the site, and it apparently is, we need to follow it through and make sure that the neighborhoods are safe and that there is no lingering contamination that impacts people in the future.”

Talk about a mess, and one that could have a negative impact on Martin’s prospects for re-election, should he choose to pursue a third term.

Keeping a chief

It’s been a busy time for Mayor Martin, who is also trying to work a deal to keep Fire Chief Mike Winn from taking his boots and stepping off to the Cape.

“I kind of feel like Theo Epstein, trying to make a deal here,” Martin said. “We certainly want to keep him if we can.”

I’m not sure what Martin could offer Winn, other than greater autonomy and a more stable fiscal environment — two things this mayor isn’t likely to offer any department head, even one as popular as Winn. The best hope the town has to keep him, it would seem, is Winn’s wife, who just took over as town administrator in Conway and may not want to bail on that opportunity just yet.

My guess is he’s going to be out of here quicker than it will take the Town Council to pass the biomass moratorium next week, but don’t quote me.

Come clean on escort

I lived in Boston for two years during college, and I saw a lot of street sweepers during that time. But, up until this past week, I had never seen one with a police escort.

On two separate occasions in Greenfield, I saw police with flashing lights trailing street cleaners — one a town cruiser, the other state police — and it led me to wonder if I had missed something. I mean, has there been an epidemic of street sweeper assassination attempts that I’m unaware of?

As I’m writing this, I still haven’t obtained an answer to this question, but I will hopefully have an update next week, assuming I don’t get run over by an angry street sweeper driver before then.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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