Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stupidity, Or Brilliance?

Being far removed from something often gives one the unique ability to see it as it truly is, and not how it is being presented.  If one is paying attention.

I pay attention. I also have an enormous imagination, which also can be quite helpful at times.

Case in point: the recent decision of Sturbridge land owner to take 40 acres of forested hillside on Shepard Road, clear cut the trees, and then erect 27,000 solar panels. Obviously, the decision to construct an eco-friendly power source was not born out of a desire to better our world, eliminate carbon foot prints, or anything else ecologically beneficial. The decision was born out of what the heck to do with land that could no longer be used for its original purpose, a housing development, because of the economy, and the max benefit per acre had to be found.  This doesn't take any imagination to figure out.

Clear cutting 40 acres on a hillside for solar energy is beyond oxymoronism, it is a desperate move to recoup an investment.

Now, here is where being "far removed from something" comes in to give one some a better view. It could also be viewed as stupid.

Destroying a wildlife habitat, disturbing the ecosystem of a hillside that would eventually subside into residents back yards, the destruction of 40 acres of trees, and the benefits they give us, all to supply the electric grid with 6 megawatts of solar power.

What is wrong with picture?  No imagination needed here, either.

But, wait, there's more.

Now, the land owner has decided to cut back his initial project from 40 acres to 25 acres, and to downsize the power production from 6 megawatts to 4 mw in order to avoid the input of the Conservation Commission. Another action that is more financially driven since the denial, and/or restrictions the Conservation Commission would make would most likely shut down the project.

"...Glenn E. Krevosky, owner and manager of EBT Environmental Consultants of Oxford, said Ariana has decided to “downsize” its original proposal so it can take it outside the commission's jurisdiction. 

Mr. Krevosky said the concept now is in “the 4 megawatts range” and would involve fewer than 25 acres. 

“There will be a reduction in the size of the project. That is a definite,” Mr. Krevosky said. “Now the discussion is to … move the project 200 feet away from wetland boundaries and, if that is done, it will take it out of the Conservation Commission's jurisdiction.”  --Worcester Telegram November 26, 2012

Hmm. Blatant admissions of just how one wants to circumvent the powers that be in order to have their way is not usually done with this much forethought; unless there is another motive.

Imagine this: a developer desperate to use the land he purchased, and can no longer make money on. Selling it to another land developer won't happen for the same reasons he is stuck with it, but maybe, just maybe, if a really ludicrous plan is announced it might work in their favor.   How about a plan to remove a forest in order to make electricity from the sun?   Once it is made public it will stir up the town folk to stop it, ad the town would feel reasonably safe since the Conservation Commission would be there to stop it, too.

Then, comes part 2. 
The owner then backs off on the original projects size, and openly states that the reason he has done this is to take the Conservation Commission out of the equation. This gives the impression that they are still going forward with the project, and are willing to cut back its size in order to circumvent closer scrutiny, and possible rejection. In other words, we are still going through with this, and now there is less you can do to stop us.

Now, you don't have to be a screenplay writer, or have an overactive imagination, to see what comes next. The town runs out of options, or money to fight the project, and the developer doesn't really want to build a solar power plant. All they want to do is unload the land. How much does this land, the hillside, the forest, and the happiness of the abutters really mean to the town?  Enough to buy it?  Preserve it forever from developers.  That would eliminate the threat of development, save the land, and send the developer  happily away.  Sound familiar?  We've been down this road a few times.  Our past actions speaks volumes.

Silly scenario? Maybe, but destroying a forest to offer eco-friendly power is pretty silly, too.  I've seen sillier things get accomplished, but from here, this may not be so stupid.  In fact, the plan is actually brilliant, but I think the developer is a few years too late. Sturbridge's land buying days are over for awhile.

At least I hope so.

I can't wait for the third installment.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Don't Miss "Lincoln"

A completely unsolicited plug for a movie:

Now playing at Cinemagic at Hobbs Brook, "Lincoln", the movie directed by Steven Spielberg is acting, and drama at its best.  My review: see it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Restoring Buildings, And Our Faith

I first wrote of the Oliver Wight House and the Lodges owned by Old Sturbridge Village back in November 2007 about a year after it was first listed for sale by OSV.  I could not believe that it was for sale, and was desperate for ideas to save the Oliver Wight House, and to repurpose the Lodges. Over the months, and in the years since then, I have written about this treasure no longer being used, and sitting abandoned several times.

Now, remember, back in 2006, Old Sturbridge Village was in a large amount of debt.  The Lodges were closed, and the Oliver Wight Tavern, built a few years earlier at the entrance of the village, had been closed as well.  Millions of dollars in debt at the start of the Great Recession, things looked very bleak for the Village.  Then, in 2007,  Jim Donahue came into the picture as the Villages new leader.  With a plan to revitalize OSV, stimulate attendance, and increase membership, Donahue has succeeded.  July 4th fireworks drew thousands, and introduced the Village to a whole new generation.  The costumed interpreters were re-introduced, and long put off maintenance of the buildings was begun again.

Old Sturbridge Village has come a very long way over the past six years, and now, the Oliver Wight House, and the Lodges, are staging an amazing comeback.  Amazing because no one ever thought that the Lodges would ever come back as a modern day motel, but as of June 2013 that is exactly what it will be.

Thanks to one Old Sturbridge Village trustee, Robert Reeder, and his wife Lorraine, who are underwriting the project of restoring, and refurbishing the Oliver Wight House, and lodges, as well as covering up to $200,000 in losses for the first two years as the Lodges reintroduces itself to the public.  Over the past month, the  Oliver Wight House has been scraped, repainted, and has had a new wood shingle roof put on.

The spirit of recovery, benevolence, and history has come together once more at Old Sturbridge Village.  As they have for 66 years, the Village has shown yet another great example of fine leadership, cooperation, problem solving, and planning to inspire the rest of us.  Teaching all of us willing to learn.

Thank you, OSV, for not giving up on our history, and thank you Mr. and Mrs. Reeder for giving them the chance to do so.

Past posts about the  Oliver Wight House, and the Lodges.

Worcester Telegram November 24, 2012

Sturbridge Village Lodges area to reopen

Includes 1789 house, guest units


STURBRIDGE —  Since he took over as president and chief executive officer of Old Sturbridge Village in 2007, James E. Donahue has probably heard this question the most: “When are you going to do something with the Oliver Wight building and the Lodges complex?”

Now he has an answer.

“We expect it will open the first weekend in June,” Mr. Donahue said last week.

While renovating the 1789 Oliver Wight house, which sits on its original site facing Route 20, has been on the radar screen of Old Sturbridge Village board members for some time, their focus has been on the living history museum.

“We were focused here, on the museum and on rebuilding our audience,” Mr. Donahue explained.

The house is near the guest lodges alongside Route 20 and is separate from the Oliver Wight Tavern, which is closer to the living history museum's entrance.

When Mr. Donahue took over, Old Sturbridge Village was struggling with a decreasing number of visitors. Since then numbers have grown and the museum has more members, as well.

With OSV facing a $4 million deficit, the Lodges, built in the 1960s, and the Wight house were closed in 2005, as was the Oliver Wight Tavern that had been built in 2000 but had been losing money. The tavern reopened in 2007, but the Lodges have been vacant since the town offices moved back to Town Hall.

In 2009, the town leased space in the Lodges for temporary town offices while the Town Hall was renovated.

Mr. Donahue is optimistic about the museum's future, but he and the trustees weren't feeling secure enough to devote the money needed to the Oliver Wight house at the time.Then a trustee from New York stepped up and offered to fund the entire project — including any losses in the first two years of operation.

Robert W. Reeder and his wife, Lorraine, of Bedford, N.Y., had visited the Lodges with their family and said the place became part of their “family history.”

Mrs. Reeder remembered warmly a romantic stay she and her husband had at the Oliver Wight house back in 1988, during their second trip to Old Sturbridge Village.

“The Oliver Wight house holds a very special place in Bob's and my hearts,” she said.

Trustees had commissioned a study of the site before receiving the Reeders' offer. The study showed that renovations would be costly, with an estimate of just under $700,000, and it projected losses for up to two years as the lodges and house were put back into business.

Mr. Reeder agreed to cover losses up to $200,000, and Mr. Donahue said that has trustees working hard to try to stave off any losses at all.

For many visitors to Old Sturbridge Village, the Lodges evoke warm memories. They were built in the 1950s and operated as Liberty Cap Motel back in 1962, and folks from out of the area often spent a few days at the Lodges while visiting the museum and other area attractions.

Mr. Donahue said a design committee has been working to keep the old feel of those buildings while offering amenities that today's travelers might require.

“Things like television and Internet.”

The trustees and Mr. Donahue are hoping the Lodges and renovated Oliver Wight house, which features original wall murals dating back to the 1830s, will encourage more brides to choose Old Sturbridge Village as the site for their weddings.

Mr. Donahue said having lodging available will also help increase attendance at evening events, encourage families to spend time in Sturbridge while children attend special programs, and offer a place for summer interns and visiting scholars to stay.

“We're confident that it can be profitable,” Mr. Donahue said. “And we will reach back out to people who might have traveled here from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.”

The Lodges and Oliver Wight house wouldn't compete with local motels, but would offer a different experience, which might include some facets of a museum exhibit being displayed there, or events such as an afternoon tea.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Time To Toss Out The Old Hot Water Tank

We have a Burnham furnace / boiler in our house that was here when we bought the property back in 2006.  It is 10-12 years old, and so far, it's doing well.  Steam heat is a very comfortable heat.  Unlike forced hot air that heats the air, and then is gone till the next round of hot air gets blown into the room, steam heat lingers.  It radiated slowly from those cast iron radiators long after the steam is off.  Our furnace also heats our hot water for the household needs.  I believe it is a better system than an electric hot water tank.

This past summer we had the opportunity to tear out our main bathroom and start from scratch.  One of the things we considered was how to heat the water in the new second floor bathroom.  Would the boiler be able to supply ample hot water for the new tub? How about the new shower?  Our pressure was always low, and it took several "fill 'n wait's"  to get the old tub temperature to where it was not painful to sit in.

A new bathroom needed a new system.  I talked hot water systems with Dave at Pioneer Oil, and he offered a lot of great advice.  The neat thing about talking with Dave was he is a wealth of knowledge, and my decision to go with an oil fired system would be good, but if I didn't he was fine with that, too.  He just wanted to share what he knew, and he knows a lot.  So after researching, listening, and doing the pro's and con's thing many times, I decided to have a Bosch On Demand Hot Water System installed.

This small box is the  Bosch tankless water heater, and
now takes care of all our households hot water needs.
Residential on demand hot water systems are like those in hotels, and large buildings, that supply hot water, well, on demand, and when the demand is done, the heating is done.  No large hot water tank to heat, and maintain the temperature from dawn to dusk in case someone needs to shower, or wash their hands.  The heating of the water is only done when needed, and for as long as it is needed; that's it.

My fear was the electricity it would take to to heat the water, especially for the large jetted tub, would be a lot, and although no oil would be used to heat it, I may loose out to the electricity.  The research I did said otherwise, but still...

After air conditioning season passed, and I could begin to see the "true electric usage" I was amazed that our kilowatt hours were returning to our pre-remodel time for a year ago.  There had been no huge hike in electrical usage despite the tub, and shower being used multiple times daily.

The last time we had oil delivered was in June, until this week.  That oil usage was for heat, and for heating the hot water for the rest of our house.  The delivery was for 121 gallons; not bad for almost half a year of heating water for the rest of the house, and the steam boiler for heat.  I opted to see how well the On Demand heater would do with only the bathroom before I chose to flip the valve, and have the rest of the house on the On Demand System.  Yesterday, we put the whole house on the system, and shut down the hot water heater in the boiler.

With our decreased oil usage to date because we put the new bathroom on the new system, and now putting the rest of the house on the system, I expect to save some more money that would normally be spent on oil.  Sorry, Dave.

It will be interesting to see how our kilowatt hours do next month.  Except for the dishwasher, we seldom use hot water elsewhere, and we use cold in the laundry.

When it comes time to change out your electric hot water heater think about an on demand system.  The initial cost is more, but you will save a lot of money every month.  It makes no sense to heat water in anticipation of it being needed, not with todays technology.  Electric hot water heaters that heat 'n store are archaic, and a thing from the past.

Today, we have new technology, and its waiting for the rest of the world to enjoy it.  My wallet is already smiling.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Time For Plan B; I'm In, Are You?

I support all those in town that want to pay for services that do not currently exist for them, such as sewer services.  I also understand that all town services cannot be offered to everyone for one reason or another, the most common reason being cost.  Case in point is the connecting the Sturbridge Retirement Cooperative on River Street to the towns sewer system.

For years the owner of the property has fought to have the property connected to the towns sewer system, and now they are looking to an alternative solution.  So why give up on the connecting to the towns sewer service?  Cost.  It would be cost prohibitive to justify spending $8 million to connect the sewer for the 273 residents of the the retirement community, and the town has said no to the request many times.  If there were large corporations, very large residential developments, or retailers setting up shop along Route 15, then it would be a whole different story, but that is not the case.  The retirement community must build their own sewerage treatment facility for $1.15 million, and they are under a state mandate to either connect to town sewerage, or build the treatment plant, otherwise they will have to shut down.

The community has applied three times for a grant to offset the cost of building the facility, and this year they are trying again, but to be successful they need to show town support, that is one area the state felt was lacking in the past.

A grant is not going to cost me anything, and I do not want to see 273 retired people with low to moderate incomes, being displaced because of not having the proper amount of sewerage.

This has been going on for far too long without a resolution.  There are petitions going around town for residents to sign to show their support for this grant.  I am not going to wait for the petition to find me, I am going to email my support to , with my name and address.  This counts as well.

There are close to 300 Sturbridge residents that need our help in order to keep living in their homes, and an email is the least I can do.

How about taking a moment an doing the same.  Those retirees would certainly appreciate your thoughts, and effort.

Click here to read the Worcester Telegram article.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Share The Road As We Always Have

That last post about proposals for improving Main Street went very well, and then took on a life of its own about bike lanes.

Bike lanes.

Some seem to feel that the removal of the fog lines on Main Street, and the repainting of the lines further from the curb have made the curb to the line an official bike lane.  I haven't seen any signs, or bike symbols painted on the road to indicate this, or even a mention in the paper that this was the intent.  It doesn't really matter though, for bicyclist it is a welcome change.

Bicyclists have always been welcome on the road, in fact the "Share The Road" signs are meant to remind both motorists, and bicyclists to do just that.  The laws that govern bicyclists on the road are similar to a motorist.  Signals must be used to indicate turns, unless it is necessary t use two hand on the handlebars, bicyclists must obey traffic signs, and lights, and both cars and bikes must give pedestrians the right of way.

I have a bike, have used it on the road.  Before official bike trails there was no where else to ride.  Having a skootch more room on Main Street will make riding a bit easier.  Yes, the "bike lanes" get narrow at some turns, and eventually disappear, but the road is till there, and one is free to ride on any road in the Commonwealth except for the limited access highways (interstates), and highways specifically marked prohibiting bicycles.  Contrary to what was written in the last post comment section Route 20 is not considered an interstate highway like I-90 is.  Yes, they both wind their way between states, and in both cases go from coast to coast, but Route 20 is not limited access, nor is biking prohibited from that road.

I don't think bicyclist are going to hop on their bikes and go shopping on Main Street.  If the new lines will do anything they will give a little more bike riding room in the business district.  Riding a bicycle on the sidewalk outside the business district is legal, thus no need for wider lanes, but they would be welcome there as well.  On Route 148, where I live, dozens of bicyclists ride by on any weekend day, as well as during the week.  They stay safe by following the rules of the road, and being alert.

Since I don't know who's idea it was to widen the curb to line area, whether it was MADoT, of the Town, or what their true intention was, I really can't comment further.

In any event, if it is an attempt to make the roads a bit safer for those on their bikes, that's great, and if it is for another reason all together, then the indirect effect for those pedaling their butts around town will be welcome as well.

Riding a bike on the road is nothing new.  Kids may be restricted to riding their bikes only in their driveway nowadays, and riding to the ball field, or school a ritual of the past, but someday they'll enjoy the trails, and the roads of Central Massachusetts like so many others

We just need to keep in mind that bicyclists are not intruders on our roadways, they are welcome, and there are laws that protect them, motorists, and pedestrians as well.  If you don't feel riding your bike on Route 20 is safe for you to do, then don't.


Massachusetts General Laws

Section 11B. Every person operating a bicycle upon a way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, shall have the right to use all public ways in the commonwealth except limited access or express state highways where signs specifically prohibiting bicycles have been posted, and shall be subject to the traffic laws and regulations of the commonwealth and the special regulations contained in this section, except that: (1) the bicycle operator may keep to the right when passing a motor vehicle which is moving in the travel lane of the way, (2) the bicycle operator shall signal by either hand his intention to stop or turn; provided, however, that signals need not be made continuously and shall not be made when the use of both hands is necessary for the safe operation of the bicycle, and (3) bicycles may be ridden on sidewalks outside business districts when necessary in the interest of safety, unless otherwise directed by local ordinance. A person operating a bicycle on the sidewalk shall yield the right of way to pedestrians and give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.
Operators of bicycles shall be subject to the following regulations:
(1) Bicyclists riding together shall not ride more than 2 abreast but, on a roadway with more than 1 lane in the direction of travel, bicyclists shall ride within a single lane. Nothing in this clause shall relieve a bicyclist of the duty to facilitate overtaking as required by section 2 of chapter 89.
(2)(i) The operator shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle; a passenger shall ride only upon or astride a permanent and regular seat attached to the bicycle or to a trailer towed by the bicycle.
(ii) The operator shall not transport another person between the ages of one to four years, or weighing forty pounds or less, on a bicycle, except in a “baby seat”, so-called, attached to the bicycle, in which such other person shall be able to sit upright; provided, however, that such seat is equipped with a harness to hold such other person securely in the seat and that protection is provided against the feet or hands of such person hitting the spokes of the wheel of the bicycle; or upon or astride a seat of a tandem bicycle equipped so that the other person can comfortably reach the handlebars and pedals. The operator shall not transport any person under the age of one year on said bicycle.
(iii) Any person 16 years of age or younger operating a bicycle or being carried as a passenger on a bicycle on a public way, bicycle path or on any other public right-of-way shall wear a helmet. Said helmet shall fit the person’s head, shall be secured to the person’s head by straps while the bicycle is being operated, and shall meet the standards for helmets established by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These requirements shall not apply to a passenger if the passenger is in an enclosed trailer or other device which adequately holds the passenger in place and protects the passenger’s head from impact in an accident.
(iv) A violation of clause (ii) or (iii) shall not be used as evidence of contributory negligence in any civil action.
(3) The operator shall give an audible warning whenever necessary to insure safe operation of the bicycle; provided, however, the use of a siren or whistle is prohibited.
(4) The operator shall park his bicycle upon a way or a sidewalk in such a manner as not to obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic.
(5) The operator shall not permit the bicycle to be drawn by any other moving vehicle. The operator shall not tow any other vehicle or person, except that bicycle trailers properly attached to the bicycle which allow for firm control and braking may be used.
(6) The operator shall not carry any package, bundle or article except in or on a basket, rack, trailer or other device designed for such purposes. The operator shall keep at least one hand upon the handlebars at all times.
(7) Every bicycle operated upon a way shall be equipped with a braking system to enable the operator to bring the bicycle traveling at a speed of fifteen miles per hour to a smooth, safe stop within thirty feet on a dry, clean, hard, level surface.
(8) During the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, the operator shall display to the front of his bicycle a lamp emitting a white light visible from a distance of at least five hundred feet, and to the rear of said bicycle either a lamp emitting a red light, or a red reflector visible for not less than six hundred feet when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A generator powered lamp which emits light only when the bicycle is moving shall meet the requirements of this clause.
(9) During the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, the operator shall display on each pedal of his bicycle a reflector, or around each of his ankles reflective material visible from the front and rear for a distance of six hundred feet, and reflectors or reflective material, either on said bicycle or on the person of the operator, visible on each side for a distance of six hundred feet, when directly in front of lawful lower beams of headlamps of a motor vehicle. This clause shall not prohibit a bicycle or its operator to be equipped with lights or reflectors in addition to those required by clauses (8) and (9).
(10) No bicycle shall be operated upon a way with handlebars so raised that the operator’s hands are above his shoulders while gripping them. Any alteration to extend the fork of a bicycle from the original design and construction of the bicycle manufacturer is prohibited.
(11) The operator of a bicycle shall report any accident involving either personal injury or property damage in excess of one hundred dollars, or both, to the police department in the city or town in which the accident occurred.
Any federal product safety standards relating to bicycles which are more stringent than the requirements of clauses (7) through (10), inclusive, shall supersede said requirements.
Competitive bicycle races may be held on public ways, provided that such races are sponsored by or in cooperation with recognized bicycle organizations and, provided further, that the sponsoring organization shall have obtained the approval of the appropriate police department or departments. Special regulations regarding the movement of bicycles during such races, or in training for races, including, but not limited to, permission to ride abreast, may be established by agreement between the police department and the sponsoring organization.
Violations of any provision of this section except violations of subclause (iii) of clause (2) shall be punished by a fine of not more than twenty dollars. The parent or guardian of any person under age eighteen shall not authorize or knowingly permit any such person to violate any of the provisions of this section. A bicycle operated by a person under the age of eighteen in violation of this section may be impounded by the police department, or in a town which has no police department, by the selectmen, for a period not to exceed fifteen days. A violation of any provision of this section by a minor under the age of eighteen shall not affect any civil right or liability nor shall such violation be considered a criminal offense.