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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.

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

Governor Patrick announces $27 million for Massasoit Community College health building

November 25, 2013 03:29 PM

The following is a press release from the Massasoit Community College

Brockton, MA (November 22, 2013) - Governor Deval Patrick announced on Wednesday at the Metro South Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting, held at the Massasoit Conference Center, a $27.4M appropriation for Massasoit Community College to construct a Health Sciences building. This new building will provide much needed teaching and lab space and will allow Massasoit to expand its allied health programs. Additionally, with the new space, Massasoit will be able to introduce students to the latest technology in laboratory, diagnostic, and medical simulation in Nursing, Radiologic Technology, Respiratory, Polysomnography, Medical Assisting, and Phlebotomy programs. It will also enhance the College’s capacity to meet projected workforce needs and to explore the possibility of new programs and courses. “Growth requires investment, and these investments in education, infrastructure, and open space will bring growth and opportunity to the Metro South area and beyond,” said Governor Patrick.

Massasoit Community College President, Dr. Charles Wall said, “The College has been given an unprecedented and unique opportunity to expand our main campus in a way that we have not been able to do since the second phase of building construction in the late 1970s. Though our growth has taken our physical presence to Canton and to Middleborough, and though we will continue to reach to places in the region where we are most needed, this funding creates an expansion possibility right here at the Brockton campus.” Massasoit offers the only Radiologic Technology and Respiratory Care Programs in the southeastern region of the state, and was the first to offer a 2-year Polysomnography degree program in the Northeast. 30% of the College’s 2013 graduates received Allied Health/Science degrees. Growth in the sciences is up 39% from the 2006 academic year and has outpaced overall College growth. The new building will allow the College to create new programs and courses in such areas as medical laboratory technician, biotechnology, and nutrition. There is a great need for additional laboratory facilities in general biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences. Having additional space for our health programs will enable the repurposing of converted space in the existing science building both to meet these needs and to expand current science programming. Anatomy and physiology and microbiology is also likely to move to the new building, which will further ease congestion in health and science programs and classrooms resulting from increased enrollments; Liberal Arts Transfer-Science is one of the College’s fastest growing programs, with a 35% increase over last year, and more than five times as many students as it had just four years ago.
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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…

Slot parlor operators look to make deals with surrounding towns

November 21, 2013 06:35 PM

Prospective slots parlor developers in Raynham and Leominster will be required to negotiate surrounding community agreements with the towns of Bridgewater and Bolton, respectively, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission decided Thursday.

Other municipalities around the proposed Parx Raynham and Cordish Companies slot parlors failed to meet the surrounding community designation, but if a slot parlor’s operations are determined to have a detrimental effect on a nearby town, they would be able to draw out of an estimated $15 million to $20 million mitigation funding, commission chairman Stephen Crosby said.

“They will have an opportunity to come to us and tap into that money,” Crosby said.

The Raynham developers already designated Middleborough, Easton, Foxborough and West Bridgewater as surrounding communities, which requires the slots parlor to work out an arrangement with the towns. Raynham worked out agreements with Taunton and nearby agreements with Rehoboth, Berkley and Lakeville. Nearby agreements are with places that do not meet the definition of surrounding community, according to a gaming official.

Cordish Companies has reached agreements with Lancaster, Lunenburg, Westminster and Princeton. Penn National Gaming, which is hoping to build a slots parlor at the Plainridge Racecourse, has deals with Mansfield, North Attleboro and Wrentham and has designated Foxborough a surrounding community but has yet to work out an agreement.

Other municipalities sought surrounding community designations, but were not deemed to meet the definition, including Fitchburg, despite what Crosby described as an “impassioned” letter from Mayor Lisa Wong.

Gaming developers have 30 days to negotiate agreements with municipalities that receive surrounding community status, and if no deal is worked out both sides enter binding arbitration with the Gaming Commission.

Penn National agreed to give preference to Wrentham residents and businesses in hiring and contracting, study the impacts of the slots parlor on the nearby town and then fund mitigation for those impacts.

Cordish agreed to pay Lunenburg $5,000 per year, with the amount increasing by 1 percent annually, and a sliding scale of revenue sharing up to 1 percent if the slots parlor makes $275 million per year. Cordish also agreed to use union labor for construction, give hiring preferences and reimburse nearby fire and police departments for responses to the site.

Licensing of the state’s first slot parlor is on track for early January, Crosby said. The commission is scheduled to issue the lone slots license first, followed by casino licenses for the east and west of the state, and finally a license for the southeast.

Negotiations with surrounding communities could be hairier during the licensing of casinos as there are already tensions between host communities and abutting cities.

The remaining potential contenders in the east, Wynn Resorts in Everett and the portion of Suffolk Downs located in Revere, have vastly different relationships with Boston Mayor Tom Menino, who will hand over the reins of government to Mayor-elect Marty Walsh in January.

Everett and Revere also border one another, connected by Route 16, making them potential surrounding communities of one another.

A backer of Suffolk Downs, Menino tried and failed to use a wedge of land technically located in Boston as a means to block the Everett proposal. Menino, who resisted calls to put the Suffolk Downs vote to the entire city, saw the East Boston neighborhood bat down the proposal on election night.

Officials in Medford next door to Everett have criticized the proposed development, and across the river in Somerville, Mayor Joe Curtatone is one of the leaders in an effort to repeal the 2011 gaming law that provided for casinos.

Springfield, the host city for a proposed MGM casino, is across the river from West Springfield, which voted down a Hard Rock proposal to build a casino there.

Dighton sought surrounding community status for the Raynham slots, and Sterling sought the status for its proximity to the proposed Leominster slots. Proximity as the crow flies is not the primary consideration for the commission, as commission staff noted that although the Sterling town line is within a quarter mile from the proposed establishment, the slots parlor would be on a dead-end, and the closest residential neighborhood in Sterling would be a 5-mile commute via an interstate.

Fitchburg had also argued strenuously for mitigation from Cordish.

“The city does not possess the internal planning, economic development and legal resources necessary to identify all known impacts and to negotiate a Surrounding Community Agreement due to significant budget constraints. This is exacerbated by Cordish’s unwillingness to negotiate with the City and the potential for arbitration as a result,” Fitchburg officials wrote.

The letter signed by Wong said, “Preliminary reviews of information indicate that cities and towns located within a 10-mile radius of gambling facilities, with a higher than average poverty level, are more adversely affected by the introduction of those venues.”

In response to an email from a Fitchburg attorney Bruce Tobey, the head of the gaming company advised city officials to visit Cordish properties in Maryland and Florida, and questioned their concern.

“We do not need to revisit Fitchburg to agree that it is depressed economically. We have been there countless times,” David Cordish wrote. “Mass Live did not create these problems. Is the City somehow contending that we are the cause of Fitchburg’s problems today.”

Crosby said the commission would fund studies to measure the impact of gaming establishments and could award dollars from the mitigation fund, which would be fed the state’s share of gaming revenue.

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.

Regional and vocational technical schools would get more money under bill

October 24, 2013 04:39 PM

Regional and vocational technical high schools would be eligible for additional state funding for capital projects, under legislation filed by Sen. Kenneth Donnelly, an Arlington Democrat.

Advocates for the bill (S 228) told lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Education Thursday that regional and vocational technical high schools desperately need the state’s help to fund renovation and improvement projects because it is nearly impossible to get several different towns all to agree to take on the debt.

James Laverty, superintendent at Franklin County Technical School, said his school has done as many renovations as they can over the years without asking the towns for money.

“We will have to go to 19 towns at town meeting with our hat in our hands,” he said.

The odds are stacked against them to get all the towns to approve a large renovation project, Laverty said.

The town of Heath, in Franklin County, has only two students who attend the school out of 500 students. If 70 people in Heath show up at town meeting, and 36 vote no, “the whole project is dead in the water,” Laverty said.

Under the legislation, regional and vocational technical high schools would be eligible for additional reimbursement, which is calculated by the Massachusetts School Building Authority based on a four-part formula. A school district can receive up to 80 percent of the cost of a capital improvement project, and must pay for any remaining share of the cost.

The formula awards percentage points of reimbursement in three mandatory income-based metrics. Regional school districts often have unequal shares for each city or town when improvement costs are allocated, according to Donnelly’s office. The legislation would increase the percentage points awarded in the grant process for regional schools by 10 points, and vocational schools would receive 20 additional points. The goal is lower the costs for cities and towns, according to Donnelly’s office.

If the Legislature offers a “little more” and regional school capital projects can get closer to 80 percent reimbursement from the MSBA, “it would make it a little easier,” Laverty said.

Alice DeLuca, the Stow representative to the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical High School in Lexington, said vocational and technical high school students are at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts at traditional high schools because their schools cannot renovate and bring in the latest technologies.

State lawmakers need to back up with money the support they voice for vocational and technical schools, she said.

“These schools provide the middle skills that everybody says they want,” DeLuca said.

“The kids who go to vocational schools do not have a nice, new renovated building and they are never going to unless something is done,” she added.

Snapshot: The cost of safety

September 19, 2013 05:19 AM

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Fire Department spending as a percentage of all expenditure spending, fiscal year, 2012.

Click here to see a larger, interactive version of this chart.
Additional town-by-town snapshots.

Entergy official distinguishes between Pilgrim, Vermont nuke plants

August 31, 2013 11:58 PM

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 30, 2013……While anti-nuclear activists were heartened this week by news of the planned closure of the Vermont Yankee power plant and what it might portend for Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, the plant’s owner, Entergy, says the two facilities are in very different situations.

“It’s really comparing apples and oranges,” said Entergy lobbyist Tom Joyce. He said, “There’s really no impact on Pilgrim from Vermont.”

Both plants are owned by the Louisiana-based energy company and both were opened about 40 years ago, though Pilgrim has a larger power output and operates under a different regulatory environment.

Less than a month before announcing plans to decommission the Vernon, Vermont plant along the Connecticut River, Entergy won a U.S. Appeals Court ruling, allowing the plant to remain open despite the state government’s attempts to shut it down.

“I think it surprised everybody,” Joyce said of Entergy’s announcement Tuesday that it would decommission the plant, and convert it to a storage space for spent fuel using the bulk of the $582 million set aside to pay for such a closure.

Mary Lampert, an activist who has attempted to force the closure of the nuclear plant located in Plymouth, said she was not surprised by the Vermont Yankee closure plans and predicted future closures of Pilgrim and Entergy facilities in New York.

Pilgrim has $680 million in trust for an eventual decommissioning, well more than the roughly $575 million required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Joyce said.

The plant received a 20-year license renewal last year and is a vital producer for the electrical grid, according to Joyce, who could not say whether the plant would be around to seek another license renewal in 2032.

“Twenty years ago we had a lot of coal plants operating and the big idea then was coal gasification and clean coal. We were just getting away from oil plants,” Joyce said. “I have no idea what’s on the horizon.”

Because the federal government has not selected a central repository for spent power plant nuclear fuel, the old rods are kept on site at decommissioned plants. The Yankee Rowe Nuclear Facility was permanently shut down in 1992 and the decommissioning was completed in 2007, according to the plant’s web site.

The activist group Cape Downwinders plan to call for closure of the plant on Monday.

“The legacy that we’re going to be leasing our children is a 60-year-old nuclear waste dump,” Sen. Dan Wolf, who has suspended his campaign for governor as he attempts to reconcile his ownership of Cape Air with Ethics Commission requirements, said in a video of an anti-Pilgrim protest posted online. “That is not what we signed up for. It is not the legacy we want to leave for our children.”

Gov. Deval Patrick has put a focus on boosting alternative forms of energy production, increasing the state’s solar energy capacity from just over 3 megawatts when he took office to 281 megawatts, surpassing the goal of 250 megawatts by 2017.

On Wednesday, Patrick questioned the need for Pilgrim, which has been the target of both environmental activists and the site of union picketing during contentious contract negotiations that included a lockout last year.

“It's not clear to me that we need Pilgrim in order to meet all of our electrical needs. So we're going to have to have the conversation about how we meet all those needs and whether this aging nuclear facility is a necessary part of that formula,” Patrick said of the roughly 40-year-old plant along the shore of Cape Cod Bay.

“There still is a need for the system, for the grid to buy power whatever the cost may be, and it’s certainly competitive,” Joyce said. He said, “The cost of solar, you know, it’s so highly subsidized by grants and by credits that are paid for, in large part by the distribution companies… people don’t see it, what the real cost is.”

According to Pilgrim’s website, the nuclear plant’s boiling water reactor generates 680 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 550,000 homes.

Both Patrick and Joyce have said there are efforts afoot to assist workers at the Vermont plant, just over the border from Northfield. Joyce said about 25 percent of the plant’s 630-employee workforce lives in Massachusetts.

Joyce also argued Pilgrim has benefits beyond its power production, with about 700 permanent employees, a $50 million to $60 million annual payroll, a roughly $2.5 million contribution toward emergency planning, $8 million to $10 million in property taxes, and $350,000 to $400,000 in donations.

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