Busy year ahead for FRCOG

  • The sagging wooden section of the former Ramage Paper Mill on the Deerfield River in Monroe is at risk of falling into the river. FRCOG has been working with the town on plans to demolish the building and erect a park there. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • With help from the FRCOG, there will be two additional trains in and out of Greenfield by the end of the summer. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The abandoned International Paper Mill in Erving ​​​​STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Mohawk Trail in Shelburne STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Cold River flows alongside the Mohawk Trail in western Charlemont — one of the many scenic areas in Franklin County. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • A bicyclist travels along a dirt road. ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • Franklin Regional Council of Governments is working with local businesses to be bicycle friendly and offer amenities to bicyclists. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/13/2019 4:56:32 PM

GREENFIELD — With 52 full- and part-time staffers and a $7.1 million budget, Franklin Regional Council of Governments tackled everything from economic development and emergency preparedness to transportation and health last year — and, it plans to continue and expand its work through 2019. 

FRCOG Executive Director Linda Dunlavy said she sees an even busier 2019 ahead because the agency will explore how it might be able to help Hampshire County towns as the Hampshire Council of Governments in Northampton disbands.

“We’re looking at services some of those towns have been offered, and we’re deciding what makes the most sense for us in terms of help,” Dunlavy said. “We want to take on projects and provide services that add to and benefit our municipalities.”

Dunlavy said FRCOG will have a better sense of what is going to happen within the next few weeks, and it will provide that information to the public when it’s available.

In the meantime, she said one of FRCOG’s priorities for Franklin County is planning for an emergency communications system.

“We’re focusing heavily on that,” she said. “We’re working with legislators and chiefs across the county to ensure the health and welfare of first responders and residents as quickly as possible,” Dunlavy said.

The FRCOG has been working with local boards of health and other first responders to plan, train and drill for large-scale emergencies, including natural disasters. The staff compiled inventories of supplies and equipment at each of the county’s Emergency Dispensing Sites and held 27 drills in 2018.

Its staff is also identifying how to maintain the county’s 13-tower radio communications network, while determining how to replace the system with a more up-to-date, reliable one. It is working with state and federal officials to assess the best path forward.

Economic development

The FRCOG continues to work with several towns, applying for Brownfields grants to clean up different sites. In 2018, it helped Erving get a grant to clean up and determine reuse options for the former International Paper mill facility and the town of Monroe to clean up and demolish the wooden portion of the former Ramage Paper mill, where the town plans to build a park.

Dunlavy said FRCOG has already written grants for 2019 and plans to hear within the next day or two about ones it wrote for Montague and Erving. 

The FRCOG also worked with other state and local agencies to permanently protect scenic, natural and agricultural landscapes along the scenic byways of Franklin County, including the Mohawk Trail. In 2018, 255 acres of farmland were protected along the Connecticut River Scenic Byway in Montague, Shelburne, Erving and Route 112 in Ashfield, in addition to the 1,318 already protected. 

The FRCOG continues to work on expanding passenger rail service in and out of Greenfield. By the end of the summer, two more trips a day will be added to the one north-south round trip already offered from the John W. Olver Transit Center on Olive Street and Bank Row. Dunlavy said it will now explore the feasibility of east-west service.

Healthy communities

The FRCOG took part in 2018 in the Communities That Care coalition, a consortium of local youth, parents, schools, communities agencies and local governments focused on promoting the health and well-being of youngsters throughout the region and worked with Greenfield Safe Schools, Safe Streets Coalition to prevent, reduce and delay youth substance use and improve their overall health.

Municipal services

FRCOG will continue to offer cooperative public health services to several county towns: community sanitation, food safety, Title 5 and private well safety and public health nursing. 

The agency has and will continue to work on a collaboration of several communities to build a shared anaerobic sludge digester in Greenfield. It would reduce the amount of sludge trucked from participating communities by up to 85 percent. The project is still in the design and feasibility stage. 

Dunlavy said FRCOG has been working on the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership project with the intent of bringing recognition, funding and technical assistance to 21 towns and cities in western Franklin and northern Berkshire counties. The project would conserve forest land and support sustainable forestry, increase natural resource-based economic development, including tourism and improve the fiscal stability and sustainability of participating communities. Approximately 82 percent of the land in the 21-town region is forested.

Transportation

The agency will continue to work with regional stakeholders to market Franklin County as a bicycle tourist destination and advocate for the use of bicycles as a means of transportation. Staff launched the Bicycle Friendly Business program in 2018, sending mailings to 300 Franklin County businesses with information about the program and inviting them to participate. Full details and rollout of the program will happen this year.

FRCOG helped towns, including Buckland, Montague and Whately, participate in the state Department of Transportation Complete Streets program — roads that are accessible to all modes of travel and types of users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit riders and drivers — by providing technical assistance and developing prioritization plans. Dunlavy said that will continue this year. 

It will finalize its long-range regional transportation plan in July, Dunlavy said. The plan is an assessment and vision for mobility throughout Franklin County, with a target date of 2040. The plan looks at all modes of transportation and assesses their status and condition. It identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and constraints. A draft of the plan will be available for review and comment in June. 

“Transportation is one of the issues at the top of our list,” Dunlavy said. “We’re taking an active role in identifying the needs and aspirations of rural Massachusetts so we can strengthen our advocacy for it.” 

Dunlavy said FRCOG will be looking at public transit opportunities this summer as it participates on the state’s Rural Policy Advisory Commission.

For a copy of the FRCOG 2018 Annual Report, visit: www.frcog.org


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