Friday April 16, 2010

PITTSFIELD -- A state official on Thursday completed a two-day tour of six Berkshire County projects that have received a total of $33.6 million in federal economic stimulus funds.

"The governor sent me out to look at the projects that are ongoing," said Jeffrey Simon, director of the Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office. "There's no way I could get a good feeling for that back at my desk."

The trip to the Berkshires was designed to give Simon a firsthand look at the impact of the funds the state received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is the name of the federal bailout.

Simon began his day on Thursday with a side-trip off his scheduled agenda, a visit to the Route 7/Route 8 Connector Road by the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, where construction is scheduled to begin next week. He then visited Pittsfield's Wastewater Treatment Plant on Holmes Road, which received $16 million through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. He finished the day by visiting the Route 183 project in Lenox, and met with representatives of the Hazen Paper Co. and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission in the Housatonic Mill Village in Great Barrington.

On Wednesday, Simon visited the BerkshireWorks Career Center, and the Berkshire Community Action Council, which are both in Pittsfield.


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"I wanted to make sure to talk to the people doing the work and to see that they have the support to do the project on time and within budget," Simon said while speaking to workers and the media at the treatment plant on Thursday morning. "And I have to say so far, I've been really impressed."

Michael Herrick, the director of the Berkshire Works Career Center, said Simon's Wednesday visit to the career center at 160 North St. went well.

"He met with some of our customers who benefited from training funds, and he met with our staff and some administrators," Herrick said. "He really wanted to see what we were doing."

Herrick said that the stimulus funds have helped greatly in supporting both dislocated workers, and teenage workers in the area. BerkshireWorks' regular training budget nearly ran out last August, but stimulus funds allowed the career center to train at least 200 dislocated adult workers and provide summer jobs for 65 youth workers last year. Funds are also projected to support another 50 youth workers in 2010. BerkshireWorks received $696,
315 in stimulus funding, plus an additional $83,440 in Rapid Response Dislocated Worker training funds two months ago.

Federal economic stimulus funding has specific guidelines and designations. The funds allocated to Pittsfield's wastewater plant will got toward several clean water initiatives that include the installation of a solar photovoltaic field; a combined heat and power (CHP) system; an aeration system upgrade; and the replacement of the plant's bar-rack filtration system.

The plant has been around since 1902, said plant supervisor Tom Landry, who has worked there since 1974. Most of the plant's newer parts were installed in the 1960s and 1970s.

The projects and upgrades could result in an average energy reduction of 75 percent, said Pittsfield's Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood.

"It's going to give us a lot of new equipment and a lot to learn," said Carl Shaw, the plant's chief of operations. "It's also going to give us more operational control."

According to Shaw, the treatment plant processes between 10 and 12 million gallons of wastewater per day.

Simon was scheduled to speak with state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox; Lenox Town Manager Gregory Federspiel; and Peter Niles of the Massachusetts Highway Department about the Route 183 project, which received $3.6 million in stimulus funding. The initiative is intended to improve pavement and widen sidewalks on Route 183 from the center of Lenox to Tanglewood.

The Hazen Paper Co. purchased the Housatonic Mill Village at 295 Park St., but the redevelopment project was put on hold when the area was determined to be a brownfield site. The company received $30,000 in stimulus funds to clean the contamination away.

To reach Jenn Smith: JSmith@berkshireeagle.com (413) 496-6239.

Sites visited this week by Jeffrey Simon and stimulus funds awarded:

n Berkshire Works, Pittsfield: $779,755

n Berkshire Community Action Council, Pittsfield: $3,074,000

n Berkshire Mall road construction, Lanesborough: $10 million

n Wastewater Treatment Plant projects, Pittsfield: $16 million

n Route 183 project, Lenox: $3.6 million

n Housatonic Mill Village project, Great Barrington: $30,000

Source: Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office

For more information on the Massachusetts Recovery Act programs, visit www.mass.gov/recovery.