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Energy – not Green – Committee picks first ‘Green’ project

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AYER — A selectman is questioning the rush to reseat the same volunteers to a board without giving everyone an opportunity to apply.

Selectman Pauline Conley said her peers were misled into quickly appointing handpicked volunteers to serve on the Green Community Planning Committee under the guise of having to meet a late-month deadline, when the professional staff-laden Energy Committee is already on track to meet that deadline.

At the behest of Selectman Carolyn McCreary at Tuesday’s meeting, the seven members of the Green Community Planning Committee were reappointed, 4-1, though the committee’s initial charge has been satisfied.

That mission was to help the town attain “Green Community” status, entitling the town to energy conservation grant dollars.

In the end, however, it was the membership of the staff-heavy Energy — and not the volunteer Green Community Planning Committee — that filed the comprehensive Green Community application to the Department of Energy Resources. Their work paid off and Ayer was granted Green Community status on July 18.

The Energy Committee completed the task of drafting a five-year plan to reduce the amount of energy the municipal government uses by at least 20 percent. Many iterations of the plan were required by members Alan Wilson, Facilities Manager Dan Sherman, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand and IT Coordinator Cindy Knox.

Conversely, the Green Community Planning Committee wrapped up its work and landed a critical Annual Town Meeting vote May 9 needed to secure Green Community status — adoption of the “Stretch Code.”

On Jan. 1, 2012, all significant residential and commercial construction and renovation projects will be held to the Stretch Code standards, the state’s alternate building code with stricter energy-conservation benchmarks.

Ayer now has an opportunity to land a Green Community grant in the maximum amount of $152,000. The deadline for fall applications is Aug. 22.

On July 19, McCreary asked her fellow selectmen to allow three at-large citizens to ‘holdover’ on the seven-member Green Community Planning Committee. The selectmen agreed only to recharge the committee but held off on the appointments to serve aside four ex-officio, predefined members: McCreary as a selectman liaison, Jeremy Callahan as a Planning Board liaison, Economic Development Director David Maher and Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand.

On Aug. 2, while the selectmen continued review of committee appointments, McCreary convinced her peers that time was of the essence to file the application. She successfully urged that the same three citizens remain on the Green Community Planning Committee — Ted Staples, Faith Salter and Alan Wilson.

“I think we need to move forward because our first grant application is due sometime in August. The Energy Committee is working on the details, but I believe the Green Community Committee members need to be aware of it and be involved,” said McCreary. “And these are three people who have already been involved.”

Selectman Pauline Conley opposed the appointments, saying the seats should be re-advertised.

“In deference to Ms. McCreary, there’s a number of committees we’ve created,” said Conley. “None of these (vacancies) have been put on the website… We just created this two weeks ago. Let’s put it on the website and see who applies… There are 7,000 people in this town who might have an interest in finding ways to spend a $150,000 grant.”

But selectmen voted to proceed with a caveat that the citizens be appointed to six month terms that would later be staggered.

Two days later at Thursday’s Energy Committee meeting, McCreary joined in the unanimous vote to pick the first project to focus the grant on, the replacement of the burner on the main wastewater treatment plant pump and to install a natural gas line to the pump. Pontbriand explained the Energy Committee had identified a target project back in June — the replacement of transformers at the plant — but after analysis by Sherman on the payback period, the application would instead focus on the pump burner and gas line.

“We feel that project has a bigger bang for the buck in terms of conservation,” said Pontbriand. “The Green Community Planning Committee is going to continue and they’ll have a role as far as what we have to do moving forward for other grant cycles but the Energy Committee would at least do this first project.”

In case there’s more capacity, the Energy Committee also agreed that secondary application projects to target would likely include a new roof with beefed up insulation and ventilation for the DPW garage and possibly power-savvy electric strips for smooth computer power-downs and hand driers that could slash the need to purchase paper towels and haul away its resulting refuse.

McCreary joined in the unanimous vote.

“We can probably list multiple projects,” she said of the multipronged application project approach.

Contacted Thursday night, Conley was incensed at what she said was a false sense of urgency portrayed to the selectmen Tuesday night that led to the reseating of the same citizens on the Green Community Planning Committee.

“Why do we need the Green Community Planning Committee?” Conley asked rhetorically. “Aren’t they basically the same thing as the Energy Committee? And what was the rush to judgment to handpick a committee?”

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