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'Tent City' Raises Safety, Sanitation Concerns
Tammy Daniels,
01:00AM / Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Board of Health heard concerns about the tent city planned for Noel Field this June. At the table are secretary Dianne Hein, Health Inspector Manual Serrano and Chairman David Polumbo, Brendon Bullett and John Moresi.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health will decide on the limits of a "tent city" planned at Noel Field Athletic Complex to house Wilco fans despite protests from local campgrounds.

A public hearing on the so-called Solid Ground on Wednesday night drew only a few people who expressed concern over health and safety issues. The board said it would take their comments under consideration but insisted that it would set the final conditions.

The city is proposing up to 300 tent sites on the soccer field to house concertgoers to the Solid Sound Festival this June 24-26 at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Solid Ground was prompted in large part by the dearth of hotel rooms and overflowing campgrounds at last year's August event.

Steve Daniels, co-owner of Shady Pines Campground in Savoy, continued to express his concern over sanitation and state guidelines related to the site. Daniels and other campground owners had protested Solid Ground last month at a meeting with Mayor Richard Alcombright and Charles Kaniecki, district health officer for the state Department of Public Health.

Daniels sent a large package to the board outlining concerns and referring to the state's housing guidelines in relation to information provided by Kaniecki. But health officials said the material didn't apply in this case.

"Ninety percent of what you gave us was about housing, about rented apartments, living space ... this is not permanent living space," said Chairman David Polumbo.

Health Inspector Manual J. Serrano said the temporary housing fell under the auspices of the Board of Health, which can set the number of tent sites and sanitation requirements.

"If we didn't have the temporary housing capabilities in the housing code, you wouldn't have carnivals, you wouldn't have circuses, you wouldn't even have the Big E ... that all falls under temporary housing," he said.

"I believe it is unsafe and I'm still protesting this situation," said Daniels.

The camping is being operated by the ROPES program, which is staffed by volunteers almost entirely from local police, fire and ambulance departments. Police Lt. David Sacco, representing ROPES at the meeting, said the group's purpose was to facilitate whatever whatever was asked. "If you want 12 portapotties down there we'll put in 12, if you want 24, we'll put in 24."

Local business owner Jennifer Barbeau said she hoped it was successful but wondered if the scale of the event was too much for an all-volunteer group. She suggested using Windsor Lake and History Valley Campground for overflow.

Robert M. Moulton Jr. said he was concerned that there would too many people at the site and about the damage to the field.

"Potentially, maybe a 100 tents could be posted there, where we have showers already in place and system in place," she said.

Robert M. Moulton Jr., also a local businessman and a former city councilor, also objected to the scale, noting up to 1,200 people could potentially be on the field damaging it. "I'd like to see how this goes," he said, but added, "I think it's going to hurt businesses ... I think there's more of a downside than an upside."

Any profits from the tent city will used first to repair any damage to the field, city officials have said.

Ernest Gamache, who operates a used-car dealership abutting the field, said he was concerned about policing and restrooms.

"I'm in favor of the whole idea because I know what this can do for the city," said Gamache. "But I've got a big investment and that's what I'm worried about."

"Our intention is to increase the visibility of police down there, Ernie," responded Sacco, who said there will be a regular police presence and command center in addition to the volunteers. "We are cognizant of your business ... we'll keep an extra eye on it."

About 140 tent sites, with a maximum of four people, have been reserved so far through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; Historic Valley is filled and has a waiting list.

Palombo said the board will issue its decision at a later date. That will likely be next week when it also hears a request for a temporary housing permit for Northern Berkshire Relay for Life, which annually hosts hundreds of Relay team members for 24 hours at Noel Field.

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