Hadley Town Meeting OKs battery storage bylaw, honor Chunglo for service

Hadley Select Board member Joyce Chunglo was recognized at annual Town Meeting Thursday for her longtime service to the town. She is not seeking reelection to later this month.

Hadley Select Board member Joyce Chunglo was recognized at annual Town Meeting Thursday for her longtime service to the town. She is not seeking reelection to later this month. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-03-2024 4:40 PM

HADLEY — A bylaw to allow stand-alone battery storage facilities in town, though prohibit them in the aquifer protection district, and spending that includes a $21.7 million fiscal year 2025 municipal operating budget were easily approved at annual Town Meeting Thursday that also featured tributes to Select Board member Joyce Chunglo as she wraps up her time as a town leader.

Other articles that won approval include spending up to $9 million to replace water tanks and $2 million for a new fire ladder truck at the meeting that attracted nearly 200 residents to the Hopkins Academy cafetorium.

While some debate occurred related to adopting the battery storage bylaw and the various spending articles, both the beginning and close of the three-hour meeting featured Chunglo, who is nearing the end of her 21st year on the Select Board, after spending the previous 15 years on the School Committee.

Chunglo, who opted against running for reelection on May 21, told residents that it’s been a privilege to serve. “I consider you all my family. Thank you for letting me do it, actually,” Chunglo said.

Battery storage, Phelps Farmhouse spending

There were only a handful of contentious matters on the 23-article warrant, with the bylaw related to battery storage being one, but passing 180-3.

Planning Board Chairman James Maksimoski explained that the bylaw, which the board reluctantly supported, provides conditions and guidance for such projects, allowing them in the agricultural-residential and industrial zones.

Michael Docter of Bay Road said he appreciates that green energy storage is being regulated and made as safe as possible. “We are confronting a major disaster with climate change right now, and these batteries are an essential part of storing solar and wind energy when it is abundant so that it can be used when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing,” Docter said.

But Tony Fyden of Cold Spring Lane said batteries are not safe, citing New York state’s experience with lithium ion batteries and the dangers they are posing. “If it’s not safe for the aquifer, it’s not safe for the residents, and it’s not safe for the farmland,” Fyden said.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

A groundbreaking anniversary: Northampton couple reflects on lead role in legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts 20 years ago
Rutherford Platt and Barbara Kirchner: ‘Magical thinking’ in downtown Northampton
Around Amherst: High school sleuths point out $2M mistake in town budget
Photos: Welcome to the Iron Horse stage
Area briefs: Free repair event in Northampton; sheep to visit Historic Deerfield; horse ride in Belchertown
Mayor’s budget boosts schools 8.5%: Advocates protest coming job cuts as spending falls short of demands

Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel said his department is ready to deal with any issues, observing that the preparation began when a battery was placed in Hadley on the University of Massachusetts campus.

Another topic generating significant comment was the use of $150,000 in Community Preservation Act money for the Phelps Farmhouse, a River Drive property now part of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum. The money is needed so there is no further deterioration of the 1816 building that needs a new roof, structural reinforcement in the basement and mold abatement.

Liz Scott of River Drive, who lives at Phelps Farm, said the property can be a major asset to the community. “The farm has a lot to offer, along with the house and the history and the research possibilities and the recreational opportunities,” Scott said.

Tim Neyhart of Kosior Drive said investing in an historic property is one of the best ways to use CPA money. “This house is so unique, with architectural features that are astounding,” Neyhart said. “It’s a shame the housing is in the condition it is. This is the only time we can start the process properly and get it back to a use that will be beneficial to everyone in town.”

The renovation of the property will serve to make Hadley an historic hub of the region, said Andy Morris-Friedman of Roosevelt Street.

But Greg Kwolek of East Commons Drive said Hadley doesn’t get any financial benefit from the museum, while Brian Carroll of Breckenridge Road said town money is needed for other needs.

Still, the spending passed 174-9.

Other articles

Voters also agreed to spend $325,000 to buy a home and 1.26-acre parcel at 234 Middle St., next to the current Department of Public Works, and which would become part of the project to rebuild the 53-year-old headquarters at the current South Middle Street location.

Jamie Kowal of Middle Street said she was concerned about the town spending $105,000 more than the property was on the market for. Hadley will also need to make major investments in the existing home, she said, and the site’s incorporation into the CPW yard will impact neighbors.

Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan said one idea is to use the home as temporary storage and offices, and having the site will save money on the eventual project. “We feel it is a very valuable piece of property for the town,” Brennan said, before voters supported the spending, 163-21.

While voters agreed to spend $2 million on a new ladder truck and up to $9 million to refurbish water tanks, Treasurer Linda Sanderson explained that these expenses would largely replace existing debt related to a school renovation project and the Callahan wells project, meaning property taxes should be minimally impacted.

The ladder truck, if approved by voters at the May 21 town election, will replace a 23-year-old broken down ladder truck. The other spending would replace the Mount Warner and Mount Holyoke water tanks, with one tank to be done in fall 2025, the other in spring 2026, with ground-level, glass-fused steel tanks, with some of the costs offset through U.S. Department of Agriculture low interest loan and principal forgiveness.

Residents also agreed to spend $185,000 in free cash to continue the “ramp up period,” as Select Board member Molly Keegan put it, for the town’s basic life service ambulance, which launched last October.

Chunglo farewell

As the meeting got underway, state Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, and Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, who represent Hadley in the state Legislature, presented citations to Chunglo, while Keegan presented the annual town report, dedicated to Chunglo.

“We see improvements around town that are thanks to your dedication and your time and so many other folks who have worked with you over the years,” Carey said.

Comerford said Chunglo’s time on the town and school boards have helped make Hadley a place where everyone can thrive. “There is simply nothing harder than municipal service. There is absolutely nothing harder,” Comerford said.

When Chunglo realized the report was dedicated to her, she quipped “somebody lied to me.” Jennifer Sanders James, the licensing coordinator for Hadley, said she and others did all they could to keep the dedication a secret from Chunglo.

In part due to her work as a nurse, but also the personal experience of having her infant daughter rescued during a chimney fire, Chunglo championed enhancements to the town’s public safety, and police officers and firefighters expressed their appreciation by lining up to give her hugs and hand shakes, with the crowd giving her a standing ovation.

Chunglo said that somehow she wasn’t more visibly emotional. “I’m surprised I’m not balling,” Chunglo said

Shortly after 10 p.m., Chunglo was handed the gavel by Moderator Kirk Whatley, who said it would be fitting for her to adjourn the annual session, which she did by calling the question and then banging the gavel.

“Goodnight, everybody,” Chunglo said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.