Council approves Airport grant and Heka extension

Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport

WESTFIELD – On March 4, the City Council voted unanimously to accept a $4.7 million grant for rehabilitation of a runway, on a 3-0 recommendation of the Finance subcommittee.
The $4.7 million grant comes from Mass Development and is entirely funded by the state’s Military Asset and Security Strategy Task Force. No funding will be required on the part of the city.

“This is good news and long overdue,” said At-Large Councilor Rick Sullivan. He said the grant is for the rehabilitation of Taxiway Sierra, a project which has been on the planning books for fifteen years, and comes from a Military Task Force originally started in the Patrick administration.

Sullivan said Barnes has now received close to $20 million for runway repairs. “Overall, this is an important project for the airport, both on the military and civilian side,” he said.

Also passing 9 to 2, with two abstentions, was a six-month extension for Heka, Inc., a 42,000 square-foot cannabis cultivation, processing/manufacturing and dispensary facility at 98 Sgt. T.M. Dion Way. The extension moves their Host Community Agreement “open by” date to September 13, 2021. Councilors Flaherty and Morganelli voted no, and Councilors Burns and Onyski recused themselves from the discussion due to conflicts.

Ward 5 Councilor John J. Belltrandi, III, whose License committee recommended the extension by a vote of 3 to 0, said a lot of progress had been made this week by the company, with the fire suppression system being approved, and permits issued.

“In discussions with the Mayor, he’s in support of this. The fire suppression was unique, the first one in the state. After nine revisions, it was finally approved. I’d like to encourage support for this extension. It’s probably the last one I’ll support,” said Ward 2 Councilor Ralph J. Figy.

At-large Councilor Rick Sullivan said he concurred with Figy. “This is the last one I’ll support. I understand they have those permits in place. This is a reasonable request,” he said.

Heka Health first signed a Host Community Agreement with the city for medical marijuana in 2016, and then again in 2019 for adult-use marijuana after the laws changed in 2017 to allow for recreational use in Massachusetts, and Heka’s business plan changed from a not-for-profit to a for-profit.

Owner Mark Dupuis recently said he expects sales of medical marijuana to be 20 percent of the business, and the medical product will be offered at a lower cost than adult use. A pre-order and curbside business is also planned for the site.

In other business, the council unanimously passed the second reading and final passage of a bond for $700,000 for infrastructure repairs during the Western Avenue Phase II project.

There will now be a 21 day public comment period before final passage of the bond.

At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty said he received an email questioning what infrastructure the city would be replacing. City Engineer Mark Cressotti said they plan to replace the 12 inch water main under the proposed construction, and leave the 6 inch water main in place.

The council also reconsidered At-large Councilor Kristen Mello’s motion to have the Water Commission come before the City Council to answer questions, which was voted down at the Feb. 18 council meeting, and voted to be reconsidered after the Water Commission meeting on March 3.

“At our last meeting, everyone voted unanimously that if the questions about the email that I submitted were not answered at the Water Commission meeting,” Mello said, that her request would be reconsidered. She said she “very much appreciated” what she heard at the Water Commission meeting, and complimented Systems Engineer Heather Stayton for her precise answers on testing. “The fundamental question of how we ended up here to begin with was not answered,” Mello said.

Figy made a motion to amend and request the Water Commission to appear at the Public Health & Safety subcommittee. “I think quarterly reports to Public Health & Safety would be more appropriate,” he said.

Flaherty said the public needs to know if the filters are working and truly address the problem. Council President Brent B. Bean, II said subcommittees are still public, and people can still attend them.

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane said she would also like to have them come before the full council. She said according to the Water Commission, an additional $12 million bond will be coming before the Council for more water work. “Before I vote on that, I want to hear the answers back before I vote on any further projects, ASAP,” Matthews-Kane said.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael Burns, who chairs Public Health & Safety said in the last two weeks, he had numerous conversations with the Water Department, the Water Commission and the Mayor. He said he would go along with whatever the consensus of the City Council.

The amendment to ask the Water Commission to appear before the Public Health & Safety committee passed 8 to 5. Burns said he would schedule a committee meeting as soon as possible.

Burns also said that he had spoken with Public Health Director Joseph Rouse about his joining City Council meetings for updates on COVID-19, to which he agreed. City Clerk Karen M. Fanion said Rouse would be listed under Reports of City Officers on future agendas.

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