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Flood relief bill expected to go to House vote early March

February 25, 2014 05:18 PM

An altered flood relief bill won't come before Congress until early March, despite hopes that congressional representatives would take up the issue in late February.

According to RollCall.com, the bill lacked the necessary number of votes to move forward. The language is being put to a rewrite to alleviate some Democrat concerns.

The bill was expected to make its way before Congress on Wednesday, a step that may bring relief to thousands of South Shore residents coping with the effects of a federal flood insurance mandate.

“They were cueing it up and ironing out their differences to be voted as early this week…to have a full vote of the U.S. Senate and House [before Congress adjourns in June],” said state Rep. Jim Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, on Tuesday afternoon.

The bill seeks to augment the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which imposed steep flood insurance premiums for everyone in new flood zones. Legislators said the mandate’s goal was to better reflect the cost of coastal flooding and to make the National Flood Insurance Program solvent.

Coupled with new Federal Emergency Management Agency maps, thousands of coastal homeowners saw an increase in rates. Others experienced exorbitant flood insurance premiums for the first time despite living miles from the coast.

State and federal legislators have since taken up the mantle to effect changes to the law. The U.S. Senate passed a version of the relief bill at the end of January.

Though House Speaker John Boehner initially said he would not take up a relief bill, an augmented proposal has been brought to the floor.

In its present form, the new proposal will eliminate some sections of the bill, such as requirements that new homeowners purchasing a primary residents instantly have to pay the newer, and higher rates, rather than the grandfathered rates of the previous homeowners.

There are also discussions of a cap to how much flood insurance would be allowed to rise per year. Currently rates cannot go up more than 20 percent. The new bill would require that rates go up at least five percent, but no more than 15 percent for the average rate within a group of similarly risked properties.

“People would be seeing increases but they would be manageable,” Cantwell said.

Rather than a four year delay to removal of subsidies, subsidies would be reinstated for homes that were constructed before flood maps were created in the community.

Grandfathering would also be reinstated. Homeowners or business owners who built to previous building codes that are no longer good enough for new expected flood levels won’t see flood insurance increases, Cantwell said.

“They would be able to lock in to an elevation at the time they did their work. That’s good news,” Cantwell said.

The house bill would also reimburse homeowners that have paid rates that have since been adjusted due to the changing mandate.

To pay for the cost of repealing the bill, homeowners would have to pay a surcharge in addition to their bill. For primary residents, that would be $25. For everyone else - vacation homeowners, business, non-profits, schools - that surcharge would be $250.

Present bill language would keep the affordability study proposed in the Senate, and would also create and fund a flood insurance rate advocate.

If an altered bill is passed in the House, the two bils would go to conference committee to iron out the differences. Both houses would then vote the bill up or down to be sent to the president.

“Congress will be adjourning in June, so the hope is to have action in the house this week or next in the latest,” Cantwell said.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch was not available for comment, however Cantwell credited him and U.S. Rep William Keating with the work they had done to progress the bill.

“They deserve a lot of credit…they have been very good on this, and when there was a government shutdown, they were having meetings to get a bipartisan support,” Cantwell said.

To read the entire text of the proposed bill, click here.

Legoland seeks child ambassadors for Discovery Center

February 20, 2014 12:52 PM


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Think your child has what it takes to become one of Boston’s inaugural Lego ambassadors?

From now until March 14, LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston will be accepting applications from children ages 5 to 12 to participate on a team to help LEGOLAND become the best attraction of its kind.

Kelly Smith, Marketing Manager at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston, said this is another step that will bring the discovery center closer to its opening in May. The group selected Ian Coffey as the new master model builder on January 26, and now Coffey will select his panel of child advisors to give feedback on the new center.

“We had our Brick Factor competition to find the master model builder, but every one needs a great team of support,” Smith said. “So we’ve developed the junior competition, which will allow 12 kids to be part of a team to help Ian with events and activities leading up to grand opening, as well as after the fact.”

Ian Coffey, the master model builder for Boston’s LEGOLAND Discovery Center, said he is excited to select the team of children that will comprise the junior construction panel and that he will be looking for a variety of qualities in the applications.

“It’s my first real responsibility, which I’m really excited for,” Coffey said. “The things I’m looking for is how creative the children can be, how enthusiastic they are, and how their imagination comes about . . . [I’m looking for] who really had all those things coming together when they built with the Lego bricks.”

As part of the application, children must include a video or photo and written response explaining what makes them the biggest Lego fan and why they should be part of the panel. They should also show something they built with Lego bricks. Coffey said he is excited to see the responses and what the kids come up with by themselves.

“In an essay, I want to see the kid. I love the raw child, even a handwritten note,” Coffey said. “When you’re reading it and you can really see that they’re engaged in what they’re writing, that’s the kind of stuff that’s going to stick out to me.”

Smith said that while a major part of being ambassador is testing the rides and being excited about the attraction, another part is providing feedback to the center. She said LEGOLAND is an attraction for children, and as such their opinions help make the center the best it can be. She said that in the process, it also provides children a great opportunity to interact with adults and grow through working in a team atmosphere.

“It’s a team of 12, so they will need to work together and develop skills of teamwork. But also, interpersonal skills, speaking skills and confidence will be gained throughout the year . . . It’s a pretty strong role for a child,” Smith said. “[We’re looking for] children who feel comfortable working with a variety of different people.”

Smith said it will be interesting to see the number of children who apply. She said it’s great to be able to offer those selected the chance to experience the discovery center before it officially opens in May.

“The Discovery Center is a really exciting attraction coming to the Boston area,” Smith said. “It’s kind of a unique opportunity for a child to be able to experience something so new and great and incorporate it with a toy that’s so educational and constructive. It’s such a great toy that so many children love.”

Coffey hopes that parents will encourage and help their Lego-loving children to apply. He said that for him, it was all about taking steps towards what he loves, and he hopes a lot of children will do the same.

“I want kids to come out of this after day one saying this is my dream, I can reach it. I can do this,” Coffey said. “The creativity, design, imagination, you can build those and shape them, but I really want children to understand that if they want to become something—even become a junior panelist—to just keep going for it.”

LEGOLAND Discovery Center Boston will be accepting applications for its junior construction panel from now until March 14. The 12 winners will be announced on their Facebook page on March 17. For contest rules and to apply, visit the LEGOLAND’s website.

Federal flood maps postponed for Plymouth County

January 31, 2014 01:11 PM

Concerns over new flood maps have abated temporarily with an announcement Friday that Plymouth County communities won’t have to approve the maps until at least 2015.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency maps were set to add hundreds of coastal properties to the flood plain and also drastically increase flood-insurance premiums for homeowners who already were in flood zones because flood elevations were to be raised well beyond existing levels.

Many communities had been required to approve the maps at spring Town Meeting, but the FEMA decision means map approval, and the new map's effects, will be delayed at least a year.

“This is what we’ve been hoping for,” said U.S. Congressman William Keating, who has pushed for the delay since the new maps were released.

FEMA cited the concerns raised through a scientific review that Keating had commissioned as a reason for the delay. The determination was also propelled by flood map appeals in Scituate, Marshfield, and Duxbury.

The announcement comes on the heels of a vote in the US Senate on Thursday to delay a federal mandate set to increase flood insurance rates. That legislation faces an uncertain future in the House, and the White House has expressed its opposition to major provisions.

Long-term relief will require enacting of the legislation.

“We’re working on the legislative side where the Senate has passed a delay, but this will give us another tool to help people all over the country and outside of Plymouth County as well,” Keating said.

Photo gallery: Elizabeth Warren talks about flood insurance

January 26, 2014 01:55 AM

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Photos by Jessica Bartlett, Boston.com staff

US Senator Elizabeth Warren visited Marshfield on Jan. 21 to discuss potential changes to flood-insurance regulations that have sharply raised premiums for many South Shore residents.

Click here to see photos from Warren's visit.

Duxbury High wrestlers assist fire department digging out hydrants

January 6, 2014 12:25 PM

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Courtesy of Captain Rob Reardon/Duxbury Fire Department

Duxbury High School wrestling team members (from left, Declin Dolloff, Team Captain Jim Chappuis, Kyle Auer and Patrick Quilty) help the fire department clear out fire hydrants.

After their town endured heavy snowfall and coastal flooding due from a a major snowstorm last week, eight members of the Duxbury High School wrestling team pitched in to help the fire department dig out about 50 hydrants covered in snow.

"The captain of the wrestling team came in to the department and asked if we needed help shoveling," said fire Captain Rob Reardon. "We are not going to turn away of some help. When we’re going call to call, with five firefighters on duty, it’s tough to do the fire hydrants sometimes. They [the wrestlers] did a great job.”

The National Guard also had to rescue 10 Duxbury residents from their homes after flooding by the storm.

Reardon said that after last week's storm, firefighters went out to start clearing the hydrants on the main roads and then the side streets.

"However, the day started off early with a car fire and two fire alarms and then progressed throughout the day to a carbon monoxide scare and ended with a gas leak that kept us pretty occupied," he said. "They [the wrestlers] did a couple hours of work and we covered some major territory."

He said he had them work in two teams, four on each, and kept someone with them at all times for safety.

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Courtesy of Captain Rob Reardon/Duxbury Fire Department

"I can't thank them enough," Reardon said. "It's great and we are very appreciative of what they did. Some of those hydrants were deep and some were plowed in. They saved us so much time."

Temperatures made it into the 50s Monday, according to the National Weather Service. But temperatures are expected to retreat into the teens Tuesday and with the potential for dangerously icy conditions.

There are almost 1,000 fire hydrants in Duxbury, Reardon said, and though residents are encouraged to clear the ones near their homes, firefighters usually dedicate some time to help clear them.

"By them volunteering, they helped raise awareness to remind people to take care of their hydrants," he said. "It's amazing what they did."

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Courtesy of Captain Rob Reardon/Duxbury Fire Department

Members of the high school wrestling team (from left, Declan Dolloff, Jim Chappuis (Captain), Eddie Cawley, Kyle Auer, and Patrick Quilty) helped firefighters by digging out about 50 hydrants.

Therese Murray says she will make her election plans known by April

December 23, 2013 01:24 PM

Heading into the new year, Senate President Therese Murray is feeling no sense of urgency to make her future political plans public before April, the month nomination papers to run for office are due to local clerks.

“I’ll make the decision by April. That’s when I usually make the decision,” Murray told the News Service in an interview Thursday.

The Plymouth Democrat said she was not worried that holding off on announcing a decision would impede the ability of potential candidates to organize a campaign for her seat should she decide not to run.

“I believe people are already, and have been for many years, looking at the seat,” Murray said.

Murray said the situation with her continuing as Senate president and Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg waiting in the wings is no different than when she sewed up the votes to succeed former Senate President Robert Travaglini a year before Travaglini left the Legislature, and said it has not led to any tension among Democrats in the Senate.

Murray got a tough challenge from Republican Tom Keyes in 2010 before soundly defeating him in 2012.

Murray’s district covers Bourne, Falmouth, Kingston, Pembroke, Plymouth and Sandwich, areas represented in the House by Reps. Thomas Calter (D-Kingston), Vinny deMacedo (R-Plymouth), David Vieira (D-East Falmouth) and Randy Hunt (R-East Sandwich).

– M. Murphy/SHNS

Wind energy bill returns to Beacon Hill

December 3, 2013 05:18 PM

Lawmakers waded back into a battle waged for years between environmentalists who want to shorten the permitting process for smaller wind energy projects and residents who say their health suffers from living near a turbine.

During a legislative hearing Tuesday, residents who live near turbines accused environmental activists of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.

George Bachrach, president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, told lawmakers on the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee they need to have the political will to pass legislation streamlining the permitting process.

“Wind energy is the future,” he said. “And to think that progress in this area can come without any harm is a misconception.”

Bachrach argued that when highways were built some people were hurt when they lost property, but there was “overall common good.”

“Somehow there is this notion in Massachusetts that we cannot build wind energy unless no one is hurt,” he said.

Two bills before the committee (H 2980 and S 1591), filed by Rep. Frank Smizik and Sen. Barry Finegold, would institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects.

Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer.

Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects. No one from the Patrick administration testified on the bills Tuesday.

During the hearing, some opponents argued Massachusetts is too densely populated to allow wind turbines to be built anywhere on land.

Residents from Falmouth who live near a wind facility urged lawmakers not to pass the bill.

Neil Anderson, a Falmouth resident who lives one quarter-mile away from a turbine, described his suffering. Along with headaches, Anderson said he has trouble concentrating and memory loss. He said he has to leave his house when the winds are high.

“My life has been torn upside down. All I do now is fight wind turbines,” he said.

Anderson refuted claims by some environmentalists who say the wind turbines do not cause health problems.

“They just don’t have a clue about what is going on,” Anderson said. “This is about massive wind generators that are just too close.”

Anderson argued that Massachusetts is too densely populated for turbines to be sited anywhere in the state. “They don’t belong anywhere in Massachusetts,” he said.

He invited lawmakers to sit on his front porch and “see what these turbines can do.”

“Maybe one of you will get a headache, start feeling the pressure in your ears, because it’s real,” Anderson said.

In January 2012, an independent report commissioned by the Patrick administration concluded that wind turbines present little more than an "annoyance" to residents and that limited evidence exists to support claims of devastating health impacts. Falmouth and western Massachusetts residents argued at the time that the report was biased and based on "cherry-picked" information that ignored the real-world impact of turbines.

Smizik, a Democrat from Brookline who chairs the House Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change, said current law favors large fossil fuel plants because only energy plants larger than 100 megawatts can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a consolidated permit. Land-based facilities tend to be much smaller, so they do not have the “luxury” of the fast-tracked permitting option available to fossil fuel plants.

Smizik said the legislation he filed would streamline the process for on-shore wind energy only if the project met strict public safety and environmental standards.

“This bill does not give special interest to the wind energy industry, it just levels the playing field,” Smizik said.

The legislation establishes clear standards and timely and predictable permitting procedures, Smizik said, reducing the time and cost for wind projects.

Smizik said the legislation does not take away local control, something opponents contend it does. There is opportunity for public input, he said.

Rep. Timothy Madden, a Democrat from Nantucket, opposed the bill, saying it takes away a “great deal” of local control.

“My opposition on this bill has not changed over the last several years,” Madden said.

Madden filed a bill (H 2957) that would allow coastal communities to create exclusion zones for wind turbine development.

Smizik said one area of opportunity for wind energy that is being missed is in agricultural land. Farmers struggling to maintain viable farmlands could develop wind farms on their land as a way to power farms and increase profits by selling the energy, he said.

Michael Parry, a sheep farmer who owns 220 acres in Shelburne, said he would never put a wind facility on his property after researching the effects of turbines.

“I would never subject our neighbors to that. I wouldn’t subject my family to that, and I wouldn’t subject my livestock to that,” he said.

Parry mentioned a wind facility located near a dairy farm in Glenmore, Wisconsin where the farmer reported reduced milk production from his cows after the turbines went up. Parry said he favors renewable energy, but feels environmentalists are pushing projects before the impacts are understood.

Rep. Stephen Lynch urges delay on flood insurance rate increase

November 25, 2013 02:55 PM
Rep. Lynch Seeks Delay In Flood Insurance Hikes (via bunewsservice.com)

By Shujie Leng BU Washington News Service WASHINGTON — Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-South Boston, Tuesday afternoon asked the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency to delay a rate increase arising from recently enacted flood insurance legislation…

Transportation bill includes earmarks for South Station, Green Line, South Coast rail

November 14, 2013 06:00 PM

A $12.1 billion transportation bond bill emerged from committee Wednesday filled with spending authorizations for projects favored by Gov. Deval Patrick though with a lower overall price tag and shorter term than the governor’s bill.

The five-year bill includes $175 million for rail links between Pittsfield and New York City, Worcester and Springfield, as well as Boston and Cape Cod, along with $2.2 billion for the South Coast Rail to New Bedford and Fall River, $1.3 billion for the Green Line extension, $2.5 billion for trains and buses, and $300 million for a South Station expansion that’s critical to efforts to increase commuter rail capacity.

Patrick and Transportation Secretary Richard Davey had pushed for a $1.9 billion tax bill earlier this year to fund transportation and education, and wound up with roughly $340 million in new taxes this summer.

“This is a project spending level that from my conversations with the secretary, the administration finds acceptable,” Transportation Committee House Chairman William Straus, a Mattapoisett Democrat, told the News Service. He said, “That $12 billion number is specifically what the administration asked for, after we had done the tax bill.”

Transportation bond bills have typically attracted project earmarks during the drafting process and once they hit the floor for a vote. The bill that cleared the Transportation Committee Wednesday already includes $182.1 million in earmarks for House and Senate members, according to a summary.

Fifteen members of the committee voted in favor of the bill, two reserved their rights, and three did not vote.

If passed, the governor’s office - Massachusetts voters are scheduled to elect Gov. Deval Patrick’s successor next November - would have the onus to decide whether to fund the various spending items.

The bill also doubles the fines for fare evasion on the MBTA and the commuter rail, which were increased in 2012 as part of an MBTA bailout.

“We did increase those fines so no one thinks there is anything like a free ride on the T,” Straus told the News Service.

An extension of the Silver Line to Chelsea is not specifically funded in the bill, nor is funding for the Springfield Viaduct, according to Straus, who said some proposed earmarks were excluded from the bill itself but could be added when the bill hits the floors of the House and Senate. He said the bill would move through the House Committee on Bonding, Capital Expenditures and State Assets and Ways and Means before hitting the House floor.

Several of the projects are at different levels of completion. The train lines from Pittsfield to New York and Worcester to Springfield “still need quite a lot of design,” while the rail to the Cape is already in place and in need of track upgrades.

Straus and other South Coast lawmakers have pushed for completion of a commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford, through Taunton, which the administration initially gave a $1.8 billion price tag when it sought to use diesel locomotives. An environmental review by the Army Corps of Engineers said the project should use more costly electrically wired trains, and the cost was increased by $400 million.

“That’s the number that the administration provided to us based on the completion of the Army Corps of Engineers environmental review,” Straus said.

Straus said the actual completion of South Coast Rail will depend on the next governor, and the Legislature will likely have done all the lawmaking needed to provide for the project by passing the bond bill.

“As I read existing law, authorization and financing that the Legislature has undertaken, with this approval the Legislature will not be required or called upon to adopt anything further with South Coast Rail,” Straus said. He said, “The success of South Coast Rail will depend on this and the next governor.”

Sen. Mark Montigny, a New Bedford Democrat who used to head up the regional chamber of commerce and has pushed for the train for decades, said funding bills for South Coast Rail have passed before.

“This is just one more step. I don’t get too excited. In fact the next time I get excited will be if the day comes when the first train arrives. Until then, I’ll probably be pretty tempered in my responses,” Montigny said.

The rail line’s inclusion will likely get a positive response from Rep. Antonio Cabral, a New Bedford Democrat and South Coast Rail proponent who is chairman of the House Bonding Committee.

Not included in the bill is local road funding known as Chapter 90. Earlier in the year, the committee separated out Chapter 90 funding from the governor’s transportation bond bill, which gave it 10 years at $300 million per year.

The Legislature passed one year of Chapter 90 funding at $300 million, a 50 percent increase from last year, and local officials heaped criticism on the administration after Patrick signed the bill but only released half the funding, later adding another $50 million to bring the Chapter 90 back up to $200 million.

“I’m just waiting to hear when and if they’re going to do the Chapter 90,” said Tom Philbin, of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Straus noted the Legislature has already passed the Chapter 90 funding for this year.

“We’re not under a deadline,” said Straus.

The bill also includes language for the Massachusetts Port Authority to give the MBTA “fair market value compensation” for parcels of land transferred as part of South Boston’s Conley Terminal Dedicated Freight Corridor.

South Shore trains and ferries ramp up for Red Sox parade

November 1, 2013 12:15 PM

As revelers get ready to gather in Boston to celebrate the Boston's World Series win, South Shore MBTA routes are preparing to amp up service.

Service on the Red, Orange, Blue and Green lines will operate with rush hour levels of service beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday.

Previously scheduled diversions between Kendall/MIT and Park Street Stations on the Red line have been canceled for Nov. 2 and 3. The commuter boat out of Hingham will also be running at maximum capacity.

“Please be advised that each boat trip has a maximum capacity of 149 passengers. Parade-goers may start purchasing the $16 round trip tickets this afternoon at the Hingham Shipyard ticket window,” said MBTA spokesman Joe Pestaturo on Friday.

Customers are also encouraged to buy round trip or return tickets prior to their inbound trips to avoid long lines on their way home.

Commuter line trains will not be running out of Greenbush, Kingston, or Stoughton. However, patrons can catch commuter trains out of Worcester, Franklin/Forge Park, Providence, Middleboro/Lakeville, and a number of North Shore trains.

“Commuter Rail's Saturday schedule has been modified to provide special, pre-parade service with extra inbound trains in the morning,” MBTA officials said on their website. “In addition, capacity is being significantly increased along each line. Please expect variations in scheduled times due to increased ridership and allow extra time for your trip. The MBTA strongly urges parade-goers to take advantage of the earliest trains to avoid very heavy volume on subsequent trains.”

Each of those lines will return to their regular Saturday schedules at approximately 4 p.m.

Commuter Rail tickets can be purchase electronically via the mTicket mobile ticketing app at www.mbta.com/mticket beginning Friday, November 1 at 1:00 p.m.

For more information or train and boat schedules, click here.

The Red Sox parade will start at 10 a.m. at Fenway Park.

For more information on the parade, click here.

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