Town Moderator Michael Wise opens the 2020 Great Barrington annual town meeting on June 22 from a podium facing the Monument Mountain Regional High School parking lot. Photo: Terry Cowgill

TOWN HALL BRIEFS: Drive-thru town meeting; Lake Mansfield; outdoor dining; Ried Cleaners; Cook’s Garage; Memorial Day; Housatonic Road repair

For the second year in a row, the Great Barrington annual town meeting will be held outdoors, on June 7, in the parking lot of Monument Mountain Regional High School.

GREAT BARRINGTON — For the second year in a row, the Great Barrington annual town meeting will be held outdoors. Indoor meetings are now technically permissible, but town officials prefer to hold the June 7 meeting drive-in style, in the parking lot of Monument Mountain Regional High School, as happened last year for the first time, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some previous years, the meeting had been held downtown at the Mahaiwe. In 2015 it was moved to the high school auditorium and has been held there ever since. Town Manager Mark Pruhenski said this year transportation will be available. Those who need it should contact the Claire Teague Senior Center.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been able to actually provide transportation, not only to our elderly residents and disabled residents, but we’ll also have a van running for anyone and everyone who needs a ride to and from town meeting,” Pruhenski told the selectboard Monday night.

This is also the first year the town has been able to provide transportation with its own resources. Last year, the Southern Berkshire Elderly Transport Corporation went out of business, leaving the eight towns it served scrambling for alternatives. The town of Great Barrington responded by establishing its own regional service.

See video below of Monday’s selectboard meeting. Fast forward to 56:30 for the discussion of the annual town meeting:

Selectboard member Garfield Reed suggested moving the town meeting back into the auditorium, in part because it is difficult to determine how many people are present at any given time. The number of attendees is important because, in order for the town-meeting legislative body to take action, a quorum must be present at all times.

“I think if we’re inside, we’ll have a better handle on it and can see empty seats easier,” Reed said. “I think indoors gives us a better shot at controlling the amount of people that we need to have there.”

In previous years, town meetings have been held at The Mahaiwe, such as this one in 2014.

“We planned it,” board chair Steve Bannon responded, referring to the outdoor venue for 2021. “For many people, it’s more comfortable to be outdoors. It was successful last year and I think we will continue with that for this season, and reassess after that.”

“One way we are trying to resolve [that problem] this year is to not have cars parked in that far lot unless we absolutely have to,” Pruhenski told Reed. “Close that section off and have everyone park in the first lot unless we need that overflow parking.”

The motion to hold the meeting outdoors passed 4-1 with Reed dissenting. Click here to see the warrant for the June annual town meeting. The back-up date in case the meeting needs to be extended is June 10. Expect an Edge preview story on the town meeting next week.

Lake Mansfield Improvement Plan Moving Ahead

Town Planner and Assistant Town Manager Chris Rembold updated the board on the status of Lake Mansfield and the road that services it. He later issued the following news release (links added by The Edge):

The Lake Mansfield Task Force plan for a recreational pathway and other lake area improvements is coming to fruition. The 25-percent design concept can be viewed here. Anyone who reviews the plans is encouraged to complete a survey.

Fishermen often share the narrow and pockmarked Lake Mansfield Road with motorists. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The selectboard, in June 2019, voted to close Lake Mansfield Road to vehicle traffic between the boat launch and the beach area due to erosion and poor road condition alongside the lake. As a temporary measure, the selectboard reduced this portion of the road to one lane, which is how it will remain until the full closure can be implemented.

In 2020, annual town meeting voters affirmed that decision and approved funds for engineering and designs for a vehicle-free, recreational thoroughfare on the shoreline section of Lake Mansfield Road. Vehicle access in this section will be allowed only for resident and pool club driveways and emergency vehicles.

The plans call for stabilizing the buffer zone around the lake to reduce stormwater, transforming the lakeside road into a multi-use recreational path, redesigning the parking lot and improving beach areas. Benches will be installed and fishing access improved. The open portion of the road north of the beach will be repaired to reduce flooding and stormwater runoff.

Town residents are invited to review the initial designs and take a walk along the road, where signs will be placed to indicate design changes. Once design plans are complete, the task force will seek grants and other funds for the improvements.

“We hope everyone will take a look at the designs and help us work out the details,” said Rembold. “In the meantime, the existing one-way road scenario will remain for the next year or two, or until we can get enough funding to construct the improvements.”

He said the town will have a better estimate of overall improvement costs by late this year.

Outdoor dining on Railroad Street

As Railroad Street patrons dine in 2020, East Mountain can be seen behind Main Street buildings. Photo: Leigh Davis

Pruhenski also updated the board on the resumption of outdoor dining on Railroad Street, which is scheduled to begin this weekend. Unlike last year, when the street was closed at 4 p.m. to set up tables and accoutrements for outdoor dining, this season the street will be closed off at 5:30 p.m. in response to complaints from merchants.

Outdoor dining will be held on Friday and Saturday evenings, with the addition of Sunday nights on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends, to create an outdoor café experience for residents and visitors. The plan is subject to weather conditions.

Pruhenski said there are about eight restaurants participating on Railroad Street and several others “participating with their own private patio spaces.” An outdoor dining area in between the Barrington House and Triplex Cinema has already been set up for the season and will operate seven days a week, weather permitting.

Live entertainment will be provided by Berkshire Busk! and students from Monument Mountain Regional High School will also be involved.

EPA action at Ried Cleaners

Rembold also updated the board on an action begun a few months ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the polluted site of the former Ried Cleaners. The EPA brought in an emergency response unit to perform additional remediation at the site.

The EPA’s emergency response unit is finishing remediation work at the former Ried Cleaners this week. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“They are just about done with that work,” Rembold explained. “They’re excavating soil from behind the existing building now and they should be pretty much done by the end of the week. Contaminated soils will be removed and the site backfilled.”

Rembold said after the EPA issues a report on the work, the town will know more about how to use a $500,000 EPA brownfields grant it received last May to complete the remediation of the site.

“Meanwhile, the EPA is granting us some technical assistance with some experts who are doing a market feasibility analysis of the site for future reuse,” Rembold said.

The property had been used as a dry-cleaning and retail facility until it closed some 15 years ago. In 2019, the town foreclosed on the property for nonpayment of taxes — a procedure that resulted in the town becoming the owner of the property.

Rembold has said there were four tanks: two containing fuel oil and two containing tetrachloroethylene (PERC), a chlorinated solvent used in dry cleaning. Those tanks leaked, prompting the environmental disaster now confronting the town. Cleanup is estimated to cost upwards of $1 million.

Cook’s Garage

The polluted former Cook’s Garage, which the town of Great Barrington took in a tax foreclosure in 2019, sits idle. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Selectboard member Leigh Davis noted that, at a recent meeting of the Housatonic Improvement Committee, a few Housatonic residents mentioned that the Cook’s Garage property “feels unsafe for especially the youth in Housatonic and there’s been a buildup of trash.” Davis asked Pruhenski for an update at the board’s next meeting. He agreed to do so.

The town acquired Cook’s Garage in a foreclosure action a few years ago. It is one of several vacant properties the town is looking to clean up and develop. Squeezed in between two mills off of Park Street on the east bank of the Housatonic River, Cook’s is plagued by hazardous building materials, underground storage tanks, and possible asbestos.

Road repairs in Housatonic

Pruhenski said there is a section of Main Street in Housatonic that has needed repairs after a January water main break that damaged a section of that road.

“Paving contractors visited last week to size up the project and you can expect to see repairs happening there in about two weeks,” he said.

No Main Street Memorial Day parade this year

Pruhenski said there will be no Memorial Day parade this year. The town did not make the call. Rather, it was the decision of local veterans’ organizations.

“We will, however, install some American flags to honor our veterans on Main Street, so you’ll see those going up very soon and they will remain in place through July 4,” Pruhenski said.