A relatively obscure agency created to help manage growth in part of western Massachusetts is marking 50 years of accomplishments. WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.
For the last 50 years the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has left its mark on the 43 cities and towns in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. Although its role is strictly advisory, the commission is credited with spearheading scores of projects in areas such as transportation, housing, and overall quality of life, according to its current chairman, Richard Butler
Regional planning commissions were created across the country in an effort to manage the explosive urban and suburban growth that followed World War Two.Some have had more success than others.
The first chairman of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, retired Housing Court Judge Edward Peck, who is 95, marvels at how the agency was able to pull together conflicting and competing interests The planning commission helped get legislation passed on a range of social issues, including domestic violence and housing for people with disabilities. It has lobbied for funding for a myriad of infrastructure projects, most recently the 73 million dollars secured to rebuild the main north-south railroad line between the Connecticut and Vermont borders.
The commission's executive director, Timothy Brennan, who has worked for the agency since 1973, said one its most significant projects during that time was to work with communities along the Connecticut River to reduce the flow of raw sewerage into the river. Brennan says the river is now 50 percent cleaner than it was 25 years ago.
The commission also spear headed the creation of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, the state's largest regional transit agency.
The commission has not been free of controversy over the past 50 years, as some of its recommendations have run smack into community opposition, but it has been free of scandal.
The commission's staff of 50, is five times the size it was when the agency was created fifty years ago.