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Northampton leaders spread divestment in fossil fuel message on Beacon Hill

NORTHAMPTON — A few days after the City Council approved a resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuel companies earlier this month, two of its backers took the message to Beacon Hill.

City Council President William H. Dwight and resident Adele Franks testified at a Joint Committee on Public Service hearing last week, urging committee members to support a bill requiring the state’s pension fund to divest from fossil fuel companies.

It was the Legislature’s first hearing on a bill sponsored by state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, of Pittsfield. If approved, Massachusetts would become the first state in the nation to divest its fossil fuel holdings.

Franks said dozens of people testified in favor of the bill — students, people from environmental groups, members of faith communities, municipal officials and economic analysts — while a couple hundred people rallied in support of the bill in front of the State House.

Promoters of the effort say the growing fossil fuel divestment movement will result in sensible regulation to reduce carbon emissions, and will be a catalyst or change similar to how divestment from tobacco companies in the 1990s allowed regulation that reduced tobacco use.

Northampton’s resolution asks the Retirement Board and treasurer to sell the city’s holdings in fossil fuel companies and stop investing, either directly or indirectly, in new fossil fuel companies. The resolution is largely symbolic because the city has a small number of investments in these areas. Of the city’s total portfolio, about .03 percent is invested in fossil fuel companies.

Dwight believes it’s appropriate to encourage other communities and institutions to stop investing in profit-driven fossil fuel companies in the hope that such pressure will lead such companies to change their practices.

“I don’t think we’re bringing the oil companies to their knees ... our impact hopefully would be cumulative,” Dwight said.

The council adopted the measure in a second vote at its Sept. 5 meeting by a 6-0 vote, with Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy and Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy abstaining. Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela C. Schwartz was absent.

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Free ‘sharps’ disposal

Residents looking to get rid of medical syringes and needles they use at home can do so for free this week thanks to an initiative sponsored by the city’s Health Department.

The free disposal began Monday and continues through Saturday. During the week, residents can drop off their “sharps” between 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Health Department office on the first floor of the Puchalski Municipal Building, 212 Main St. On Saturday, drop-offs will take place from 9 to 11 a.m.

The items must be placed in a rigid, leak-proof and puncture resistance container. Approved containers may also be purchased at the Health Department.

About a year ago, the Health Department launched the program to give residents an inexpensive way to get rid of syringes and needles and make it possible for residents to comply with a state law that bans disposal of needles, syringes and lancets in household trash and landfills.

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North, North Elm projects

As one project wraps up, another begins.

The Department of Public Works anticipates that final paving of North Street will begin Wednesday. The department is recommending motorists seek alternate routes and avoid using the street. North Street residents will have access to their property, but all other traffic will be detoured from the work zone.

Meantime, work on a new sidewalk along the western edge of North Elm Street began last week and is expected to be completed at the end of the month. The sidewalk is being constructed on North Elm from Hatfield Street to the intersection of Bridge Road.

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Discussing black bears

Amid concerns that people might be feeding or evening chasing black bears, state and local experts will discuss ways residents can stay safe and avoid conflict with bears at a presentation next week.

The session is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m., at the Forbes Library on West Street.

It will feature talks by Ralph Taylor, of the state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, and Christina White, a veterinarian at Riverbend Animal Hospital, who will discuss black bears, local studies, and the work of the Massachusetts Large Animal Response Team. A representative from the Northampton Health Department will talk about the city’s ordinance on feeding wildlife.

The free event is sponsored by the state Division of Fish and Wildlife, Riverbend Animal Hospital, Hitchcock Center for the Environment, and Northampton Health Department.

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A fitting tribute

A new flowering cherry tree will be planted in the courtyard of the Hampshire County Courthouse Friday to honor victims of domestic violence in the county.

Officials from the Hampshire Council of Governments, Safe Passage and the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office will join Yoko Kato for a planting ceremony scheduled for Friday at 4 p.m. in the courthouse lawn, 99 Main St.

Kato’s daughter and grandson were murdered by the boy’s father inside their Northampton apartment two decades ago. Since then, Kato has helped bring international attention to the problem of domestic violence.

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