Matthews-Kane calls for restarting Barnes Aquifer group

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane. (FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – At the Jan. 7 City Council meeting, Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane brought forward a motion to restart the Barnes Aquifer Protection Advisory Committee (BAPAC). The motion was approved unanimously, and sent to the Natural Resources subcommittee, chaired by At-large Councilor Kristen Mello, the Law Department and the mayor’s office.

In presenting the motion, Matthews-Kane said she thought of it after the previous City Council meeting on Dec. 17, in which the proposal to store 280 empty Home Depot trailers at the Westfield-Barnes Airport was ultimately voted down due to concerns over the impact of the storage on the aquifer.

“I thought it would be helpful and less time consuming if we had experts giving us advice,” Matthews-Kane said.

Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr., one of the councilors voting in favor of the storage plan, asked at the meeting on Jan. 7 to join the motion. “I did have a conversation with one resident in Ward 1 who missed having BAPAC to bounce ideas off of. I would like to add my name to this,” he said.

After the meeting, Matthews-Kane discussed her reasons for wanting to bring back BAPAC.

“I had been considering this motion for a while, but after the City Council’s discussion in December about airport trailer storage, the need became even more apparent to me,” Matthews-Kane said, adding that during the License sub-committee meeting, she and Councilor James Adams had commented on how helpful it would be if professionals in the field could give their expert, science-based advice.

“That specific moment motivated me to put in the motion, and I’m glad Councilor Nick Morganelli co-sponsored it with me,” she said. “When the Council has a decision to make, it helps to have outside experts who can advise us. It’s hard for (the) City Council to have in-depth knowledge on every subject and it’s challenging to do all the necessary background research needed to make the best decision. I envision the BAPAC as a group of consultants who can help us best decide how to preserve our city’s biggest aquifer.”

Asked whether she had any thoughts on who might lead the advisory committee, Matthews-Kane explained that BAPAC is not just a Westfield institution. “Historically it served many of the communities that tie into the Barnes Aquifer (Westfield, Southampton, Holyoke, and Easthampton), so it will take a group effort to bring it to fruition,” she said.

Matthews-Kane noted that Patty Gambarini, principal environmental planner at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission had been the previous facilitator of the committee, who she said “might be willing to take up the reins again.” She also mentioned Dr. Robert Newton, Professor of Geosciences at Smith College, who she said might be another important advocate for the reestablishment of BAPAC.

“The City Council also sent the motion to our Natural Resources subcommittee. Councilor Kristen Mello is the new chair, so I know the motion is in good hands. I’m also grateful that Councilors Allie and Morganelli are on the subcommittee as well. They have been outspoken advocates for clean water in the past, so I know they will fight to make sure the city makes the best decision about BAPAC,” said Matthews-Kane, adding that the motion was also sent to the mayor’s office.

“I look forward to seeing the mayor’s leadership on this issue. The Barnes Aquifer includes Massachusetts’ largest area of high-yield aquifer west of Boston and is a shared resource among several municipalities. I know Mayor Humason, a former Senator who has worked with these communities, will see the importance of doing everything we can to preserve this important natural resource,” she said.

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