Around Amherst: UMass, town advocacy could boost Palmer train stop

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STAFF PHOTOWEB ONLY STAFF PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-28-2024 10:47 AM

AMHERST — An effort to bring a train platform to Palmer could mean the return of passenger rail service to Amherst, which lost its direct to access to trains when the Springfield to Greenfield Knowledge Corridor tracks opened at the end of 2014.

Anne Miller and Ben Hood, who coordinate Citizens for a Palmer Rail Stop, told Amherst’s Transportation Advisory Committee last week that they will need support from Amherst and the University of Massachusetts.

“We feel if there was enough advocacy coming from Amherst and UMass that the state would be more sensitive about placing the future Palmer station in the correct location for revival of service on the Central Corridor,” Miller said.

“We want to make sure that that advocacy stays in any future plans or documents, even if the state doesn’t have a plan immediately to review that line,” Miller said.

Miller said she and Hood began their work in 2015, as the state reviewed lines to Boston, New Haven, New York and Montreal. Palmer is identified as a stop in that plan and the earlier Central Corridor plan.

A Palmer station could be an early action item, based on input from Gov. Maura Healey, they said. “The design of our station is pretty crucial to how any future connection to Amherst will occur,” Hood said.

In 2009, then Town Manager Larry Shaffer hinged a Save Our Stop Task Force on Palmer, but Amherst still ended up losing its station.

Former Select Board member Rob Kusner, who was a point person on the task force, is enthusiastic about the latest opportunity.

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“Having a railway connection from Amherst to Palmer, and perhaps further south and further north, lots have been put into it already,” Kusner said.

Commission on Disability

The Disability Access Advisory Committee will now be known as the Amherst Commission on Disability, a decision approved by the Town Council this week at the request of committee members.

The change, under state law Chapter 40, Section 8J, allows the $3,000 to $5,000 the town annually collects from handicapped parking fines to be spent at the discretion of the commission.

“The primary differences is that Commissions on Disability are permitted to accept private donations and appropriations from municipalities toward projects that benefit people with disabilities,” Town Manager Paul Bockelman wrote in a memo to councilors.

“This has been something that has been requested internally for quite some time,” said Myra Ross, who has chaired the committee. “This is a long-term committee, it’s already been in existence for more than 30 years, and really should be a commission under section 8J.”

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director Pamela Nolan Young said the capital could be used for building improvements or special education equipment. In Scituate, the money has been used to create a handicapped accessible path to a beach.

Ross said the change also honors a 45-year member of the Stavros Center for Independent Living who died in late 2023. “We ask that you do this to honor Joe Tringali, who was on the committee for much of those years. This was really a thing he kept asking for,” Ross said.

Wildwood’s future

Some residents are pushing for a decision to be made soon on what will happen to Wildwood School, the Strong Street elementary school that will close in the fall of 2026 when a new school opens on the site of Fort River School.

Ira Bryck, who lives near the school, told Bockelman at a recent Cuppa Joe that the building deserves a fair exploration as a possible senior and youth center. “It seems like it would be a shame to sell that off for housing,” Bryck said.

Bockelman said the building has challenges, that would make marketing the building difficult, and that standalone senior centers are the trend.

Sidewalk improvements

District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen said she heard a lot of frustration and questions about how sidewalks are improved or built at a district meeting held at North Amherst Library,

A concern is that building a sidewalk on East Pleasant Street received a top rating from the Transportation Advisory Committee, yet the town is likely to first do a multi-use path along Heatherstone Road  

Schoen said the Department of Public Works should be brought in to all discussions of sidewalks  “It’s a request for priority setting that would be useful to hear,” Schoen said.

Leverett anniversary continues

Leverett is continuing to celebrate its 250th anniversary, with an Antique Vehicle and Equipment Show on the ballfield between the Leverett Elementary School and Leverett Library on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Vehicles from before 1974 are expected to be displayed during that time.

A food truck from Myers Catering of Easthampton will be set up. In case of inclement weather, the event will be postponed to Sunday.

Meetings

TUESDAY: Elementary School Building Sustainability Subcommittee, 11 a.m. and Conservation Commission Land Management Subcommittee, noon.