Legislators push WMECO to keep Greenfield open

 

Greenfield Recorder 10/26/2013, Page A01

By RICHIE DAVIS Recorder Staff

Area legislators are pressing 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 adverseweather events and other unanticipated outages.”

The legislators, who met with WMECO officials two days ago, according to Sen. Stan 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, from employees and from 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 Shelburne Road facility. 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 Reps. Stephen Kulik, Paul Mark and Denise Andrews, 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 company 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 wasn’t 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.

Mark, a former Verizon lineman who recalled a similar consolidation proposal by that utility, said the idea of sending a repair worker who works in one outlying Franklin County town all the way down to Hadley so they can report back to an emergency in another outlying town “seems like a colossal waste of time. This would be the only county that wouldn’t have its own service center.”

Rosenberg and Mark said they hope that having plenty of time before the planned consolidation would take effect allows enough time for the utility to rethink its proposal.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or413-772-0261, Ext. 269