Lucas Willard

Southern Adirondack Bureau Chief/Weekend Host

Lucas Willard graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Communications. He also attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in 2010, where he studied audio and multimedia storytelling.  Prior to joining WAMC in 2011, Lucas worked with the Sound and Story Project of the Hudson Valley, the Big Shed Audio Documentary Podcast, the Albany Broadcasting Company, WDVL & WCVF-FM Fredonia, and WSUC-FM Cortland.  

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Berkshire Environmental Action Team

The Housatonic River Status Report released by the US EPA last week comes after extensive meetings with the state governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut. The report outlines goals set by both states and the EPA, but no final cleanup plan has yet been identified.

PCB’s or polychlorinated biphenyls, are any of over 200 different believed to be cancer causing chemicals released into the Housatonic by General Electric in Pittsfield until the 1970s.

WAMC

Pittsfield’s Zoning Board of Appeals gave unanimous approval to a 22 acre solar array on the former YMCA Camp at Ponterril. The $20 million project would sit on the 77-acre site overlooking Pontoosuc Lake, and generate three megawatts of electricity. The electricity would then be sold to the Western Massachusetts Electric Company.

Deanna Ruffer, Pittsfield’s Community Development Director, said that the project owned by Connecticut-based CTC electric, will be welcome as the city’s fourth solar project.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration has revealed an outreach effort to help more than 12,000 long-term jobless workers receive social services and job training after losing extended unemployment insurance benefits. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Less than an hour before the initiative was announced Thursday, the state Labor Department said the unemployment rate in April remained stuck at 7.7 percent.

On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives passed a modified version of the bill that will now head to the senate. The bill would help prevent foreclosures by requiring banks to be more flexible with borrowers in their repayment plans.

The bill would require lenders to analyze loans under new standards and offer modifications that can financially benefit the borrower and bank to prevent forclosure.

In December, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation amending a commission that would look at EBT fraud in Massachusetts. The commission was created after it was found that the state public assistance cards were being used to pay for tattoos, alcohol, tobacco, and other things not intended in the program. After a report was filed on April first by the Commission, the House of Representatives began working on their own EBT reform plan, which was included in their FY 2013 budget proposal.

The Massachusetts budget proposed by the Senate Ways and Means Committee is winning praise from municipal officials. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Senate leaders say the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning on July 1 would boost local aid by $275 million over current year levels and provide full funding for unrestricted local aid. An earlier budget proposal by Governor Deval Patrick had made $65 million of unrestricted aid contingent on state revenues reaching certain benchmarks in the current year.

The study released Tuesday by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection shows that the Wind One industrial turbine in the Cape Cod town of Falmouth produces noise louder than the state allows.

The report marks the first time the state has recommended a shut-off of a wind turbine.

Rhode Island's governor has signed an executive order saying the state will recognize same-sex marriages performed out of state. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

The order signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee on Monday directs state agencies to afford same-sex married couples the same rights as heterosexual ones. Chafee says some same-sex couples married outside Rhode Island have been denied rights because state law isn't clear on the subject.

The state is plans to cut back HIV testing and education spending in jails. Over $1 million dollars have been eliminated from programs in houses of correction.

Kevin Cranston, director of the state Bureau of Infectous Disease, says that due to the tight budget, the state is making cuts they believe will have the least amount of impat.

State prisons will be spared the cuts. Cranston also says that not all HIV programs in county jails will be eliminated.  

After State Representatives and Senators passed special legislation this week that would allow school districts to exempt themselves from the provision in the Nutritional Standards for Competitive Foods in Schools that would prevent school from selling sugary sweets during school hours for special events such as fundraisers, the Department of Public Health has come up with amendments to the regulations that would take effect in August.

Next week, the people of Williamstown will vote on municipal efforts to expand and begin the process of developing new state funded Affordable Housing in the Northern Berkshire town. According to Massachusetts’ Affordable Housing Law, every community in the Commonwealth has an obligation to develop ways to provide 10% of their housing stock available to moderate and low income families. Many Berkshire communities are well below that goal, including Williamstown.

A key Connecticut lawmaker says efforts to enact state legislation requiring labeling of genetically modified food died in the face of threatened lawsuits by food producers. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Representative Richard Roy, the House chairman of the Environment Committee, said Thursday that he unsuccessfully lobbied House Speaker Christopher Donovan and Governor Dannel P. Malloy. The legislation got no further than his committee.

Aime Kunes is President of the LGBT Coalition of Western Massachusetts. She says that President Obama’s support for gay marriage falls in line with other efforts his administration has made, such as the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”.

Kunes says that the she thought the president spoke his mind despite political risk.

Jason Verchot, president of Berkshire Stonewall, a nonprofit supporting the well-being of the gay and lesbian community in the Berkshires, says that president Obama’s support at the federal level is significant.

The most fundamental change in the plan released by the Senate is how people pay for health care. The bill offers a new global payment system – one that replaces the old fee for service model with fixed allocations from insurance companies for care.

Health insurance companies in Massachusetts began introducing global payment options for some customers in 2009. The Governor also endorsed the idea in his Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal. The bill would require all state subsidized health care insurance programs make the switch over the next several years, including Medicaid.

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Anne Skinner, President of the Williamstown League of Women Voters says that in New England, it’s a long-standing tradition for towns and town residents to make big decisions together at the yearly event.

Because of the tradition and gathering of people, Anne Skinner says that town officials are often chosen in May, rather than November, unlike cities in New England, or adjoining states.

Berkshire County is home to many communities classified as towns and many new positions were filled.

The federal “Secure Communities” program requires that fingerprints be taken from arrested individuals and compared to immigration and FBI databases. Proponents are saying the program is the most effective tool for detecting illegal immigrants. Opponents argue the system leads to racial profiling, or targets low-level offenders.

Connecticut has taken the first step requiring corporations and other groups that independently spend money or run ads for political candidates to identify top donors. WAMC’s Lucas Willard has more…

The House of Representatives approved legislation 94-to-54 on Tuesday intended to bring more transparency to political financing.

With a new online criminal background check system launching Monday,  improvements to the Criminal Offender Record Information system, or CORI, come two years after legislation was signed to protect Massachusetts residents who have paid their debt to society.

The new CORI database provides easier access to the public including landlords and employees seeking background information on potential tenants or employees. At the same time the system overhaul will restrict their searches to information on convictions dating back ten years.  

DEP Commissioner Ken Kimmell says that the plan currently under development to reduce the amount of food waste in landfills, which could eventually lead to banning commercial institutions from disposing organic waste in the conventional manner, is an attempt to get a return from a resource literally being thrown away.

A bill sponsored by Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Senator Benjamin Downing, both of Pittsfield, would expand the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority by adding three additional board members. The board, also known as PEDA, was created in the late 90s to redevelopment the William Stanley Business Park, the former 52-acre home to General Electric, and largest employer of city residents for decades.

 Senator Downing says that the action was needed to allow the board to reach out and attract companies to the park.

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As a pending ballot initiative for November aims to legalize the sale medical marijuana in the state, a bill filed by State Representative Ellen Story seeks to allow Massachusetts residents over 21 to legally purchase or grow marijuana for personal use. Representative Story says the bill represents the opinion of her district…

Berkshire Farm and Table is hosting its ongoing “Where the Wild Things Are” series of foraging programs throughout Berkshire County. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief spoke with Russ Cohen, a wild foods expert and educator…

Russ Cohen is a wild foods expert and author of Wild Plants I Have Known…And Eaten. More information on the “Where the Wild Things Are” hikes can be found at BerkshireFarmandtable.com

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is slamming Alabama and Arizona over their tough immigration policies.  WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

The Boston Globe reports that in a speech earlier this week at Tufts University, Patrick said the actions of states on the issue have been ham-fisted, self-defeating and even racist. He also calls much of the debate over immigration reform hysterical and poisonous.

Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities Program funded improvements to the First Street Commons in Pittsfield, a park that had previously fallen into disrepair. At a ceremony today outside the park, state and city officials gathered to officially open the new gateway entrance to the Commons.

The panel overseeing the Massachusetts’ new gambling law is weighing a plan to pre-qualify potential casino developers in the state. WAMC’s Lucas Willard reports…

Under the proposal discussed by the Gaming Commission on Tuesday, a would-be developer would have to demonstrate that it has sufficient financial backing and a track record in the gaming industry before it can begin negotiations with a host community.

A spokeswoman for the five-member commission said the panel would study the idea further before deciding whether to adopt it.

May 1st is recognized as International Workers Day. In Pittsfield, an Occupy Berkshires rally was held to commemorate the day and raise awareness of political issues. WAMC’s Berkshire Bureau Chief Lucas Willard attended the rally and spoke with activists and occupiers.

 

The new regulations now up for a public comment for the next 30 days come after two years of study commissioned by the state Department of Energy and Resources. DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia…

Biomass energy production comes from the generation of power by burning organic materials, most notably wood. Opponents of the practice say that unregulated biomass energy production can lead to overharvesting of timber, increased air pollution, and the excess release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

The Merrimack River Valley Flood Control Compact is at the center of an argument between the two New England states.  The 1953 agreement was approved by Congress after Massachusetts requested help from New Hampshire in managing the Merrimack River flood plain.

18 New Hampshire Towns gave up a portion of their communities to build a flood control system, and in exchange, the State of New Hampshire agreed to reimburse the towns for the lost property tax values. According to the agreement, 70 percent of that funding going to the towns would come from payments made by Massachusetts.

At the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, members of the community gathered to have an open dialogue with area economic development strategists to talk about the future of the Berkshire economy and current obstables that stand in its way.

Executive Director of the Norman Rockwell Mseum, Laurie Norton Moffatt explains that this meeting was the last of the “Four Freedoms” community discussion forums.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection earlier this month launched the “RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts” program. RecyclingWorks provides businesses and institutions with information and assistance with disposing waste properly and encourages recycling.

Greg Cooper from the Mass DEP says that the program is designed to help business reach sustainability goals, but also help their bottom line.

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