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Long-awaited Manhan River fish ladder project could begin this spring in Easthampton

Work to complete a fish ladder on the Manhan River may start this spring now that city officials have tentatively selected a construction company to finish the project, which has been dormant since fall 2010.

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said the city chose the lowest of seven bidders for the project. New England Infrastructure Inc. of Hudson offered to complete the project for $465,000, a figure that includes extra options such as hand rails and soil grading. The city may request all the options, Tautznik said.

“We will sign a contract with them when the funding comes through,” he said. “We can’t move forward until then.”

The project seeks to open more than 10 miles of spawning habitat to various species of migratory fish. It was started in 2010 when the city, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, received $750,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

But soon after construction began, the contractor discovered wooden timbers buried in the river bottom that needed to be removed, bringing project costs to over $1.2 million. Work stopped due to a lack of funds.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has found other funding sources to get the project started again, Tautznik said. In addition to the remaining $92,490 of the original recovery act funds, Fish and Wildlife is allocating some of its own money. Around $150,000 is expected to come from a $345,000 settlement between the Department of Environmental Protection and the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department. In 2004, the Holyoke natural gas plant was found to have released coal tar into the Connecticut River.

Tomorrow Tautznik is scheduled to meet with Melissa Grader, the Fish and Wildlife Service official in charge of the project, to discuss when the funding is likely to be finalized so the city can sign the contract with New England Infrastructure.

He said he is confident the project will be completed without further issues because the engineering and construction companies are aware of the buried timbers this time around.

“We identified all that to the bidders, so it’s up to them to figure it out,” he said. “It’s when there are unforeseen issues that it’s a problem.”

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Cultural district eyed

As proponents of a state-designated cultural district in downtown Easthampton get closer to submitting the application to the Massachusetts Cultural Council in January, they have decided to reduce the scope of the proposed district to include only Cottage Street.

Easthampton City Arts Plus, the committee heading the project, originally planned that the district would include parts of Main, Union, Holyoke and Railroad streets and Payson Avenue, as well as all of Cottage Street.

A cultural district, according to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, should be a “walkable” area that serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity in the city.

“Although cultural amenities are found throughout Easthampton’s geographical parameters, the committee modified the course of the district to the full-length of Cottage Street because it most strongly encompasses the characteristics of a Cultural District specified by the MCC,” ECA+ Coordinator Burns Maxey wrote in a press release.

She noted that the city can apply for district designations for other parts of the downtown in the future.

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Creative venue

Local artists, performers, musicians, dancers, writers and “creative business owners” looking to talk shop now have a monthly venue in which to connect with their peers. After requests to hold more social events, Easthampton’s arts committee announced it will put on a “relaxed creative networking hour” on the last Monday of every month.

Easthampton City Arts Plus is calling the event CHAT, an acronym for “Come Hang Around and Talk,” said ECA+ Coordinator Burns Maxey.

The first CHAT event is set for Jan. 28 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Art Bar Café in the former Memorial Hall at 1 Northampton St.

“Our members have been requesting ECA+ to host such an event,” Maxey said in a press release. “Creativity can be exhilarating but also an isolating practice. CHAT will give both individuals and creative businesses a chance to connect with other members of the community.”

The event is free and the Art Bar Café will sell food and drinks.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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