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Legislators urge WMECO to reconsider planned closing of Greenfield center

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Area legislators are urging Western Massachusetts Electric Co. to reconsider plans to close its Greenfield service center by the end of 2014, telling company President Craig Hallstrom that such a move could “result in increased response times, particularly in the more rural areas of Franklin County, during adverse weather events and other unanticipated outages.”

The legislators, who met with WMECO officials last week according to state Sen. Stanley C. Rosenberg, D-Amherst, “join our constituents in their concern that this is likely to cause significant delays for customers in Franklin County, as well as additional burdens for the Greenfield staff.”

Rosenberg said his office and those of other legislators have been flooded with calls from WMECO customers, employees and town officials concerned about delayed response time to the largely remote locations because of the planned closure, which he said is one of 15 consolidations planned in Northeast Utilities’ territory.

“I asked, ‘What would be the negative impact on you if you closed 14 rather than 15, bearing in mind that this is the only facility in Franklin County,’ ” Rosenberg said. “The other examples they’d already given seemed they were much closer. Consolidating Springfield and East Springfield seemed like a no-brainer.”

A dozen of those closures are in Connecticut, according to a utility spokesman.

The utility announced earlier this month that it plans to move its Franklin County work base to Route 9 in Hadley to consolidate operations and save money.

That’s resulted in union concerns that the move will delay response times for emergency repairs in Franklin County.

The company, which now uses the Greenfield facility for its operations in Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Leyden, Montague, Northfield and Shelburne, downplays the possibility.

WMECO spokeswoman Priscilla Ress said the company, which also plans to move its headquarters from the Springfield Technology Park to its East Springfield Service Center, has more than 20 employees now working out of its Greenfield center. All those workers — 10 linemen, three electricians, two stock clerks, two garage mechanics, two field technicians and several supervisors — will be transferred to Hadley.

But she said that with “a distributed workforce,” the utility uses the Shelburne Road center only to park its trucks, and that it will continue to prepare for storm outages with staging areas for those vehicles in shopping center parking lots and similar decentralized locations, with round-the-clock “troubleshooters” to respond to emergencies.

The letter to Hallstrom, also signed by Democratic state Reps. Stephen Kulik of Worthington, Paul W. Mark of Peru and Denise Andrews of Orange, called for “continued discussions” with WMECO officials to ensure, in Rosenberg’s words, “a standard of service that’s equal to, or better than, what we have today.”

At the meeting with a utility representative, said Rosenberg, “They assured us that would be the case.

“We were skeptical that really could be achieved, but we asked them to provide additional information so we understand how that could occur.”

Mark said he “found it disappointing” that WMECO was not willing to reconsider its proposal until the end of the meeting, when the spokesman said there may be a way to have some kind of presence in Greenfield.

Rosenberg and Mark said they hope that the utility has time to rethink its proposal with more than a year before the planned consolidation would take effect.

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