Environmental Victory

Local environmental activists had a victory when the town of Southampton, Massachusetts, which borders Holyoke, announced it will build a 3.5 mile rail trail that will connect to other existing rail trails. “It will run to Route 10 (aka College Highway) by Sheldon’s Ice Cream,” Ed Gibson told the Valley Post on January 3. He works for the town of Southampton. “The trail will need to be designed and we will also be looking to apply to have it placed on a future year of the state's Transportation Improvement Program for the construction costs. Our best estimates would be that it will take four to five years from now to be open.”

Gibson went on, “This project has been decades in the thought and planning process and we are thrilled that we have finally been able to acquire the right of way and will be able to directly connect to the Manhan Rail trail in Easthampton.... During the design phase we will be reaching out to the abutters and town residents for input and comments for the rail trail. Our next steps on the total project after this will be to work with Westfield and the state to find the best route possible to connect with the city of Westfield’s rail trail.”

Despite the name, the group Walk Boston works state-wide on this issue. People are allowed to walk and ride bicycles on rail trails. Motorized vehicles (including electric cars) are banned. Walk Boston works with bicycle advocacy groups. Just 3 percent of the USA's electricity comes from solar.


Belchertown, Massachusetts borders Amherst. In Belchertown, Nipmuc Native Americans are asking for some of their land back from the government. More than 1,600 people signed a petition in support. It's at:


Molly Merrett started the petition. On January 5, she told the Valley Post, “The tribe wishes to preserve the farmland and forestland of the Lampson Brook Farm to grow food and foster land connection for increased community health among the Nipmuc and others. Any farmers currently leasing plots at Lampson Brook Farm would be encouraged to stay, the Nipmuc would begin to use available land for farming, and take over other plots as they became available. Any building that might happen (the plan is housing for 3--5 families) would happen within the Enterprise Zone, which is not suitable as farmland because the soil is contaminated and in need of remediation. We wish to remove restrictions because they are incompatible with Indigenous sovereignty, not because the tribe wants to develop farmland and forestland -- they don't. We should remember that it is settlers, with our economic system based on extraction and 'use' of nature, who are responsible for climate chaos and environmental destruction. We have a lot to learn from Indigenous people the world over who see the land as their relation, have always cared for the land as such, and will continue to do so.”


The Brattleboro Reformer newspaper has been dominated by crime coverage in recent months. The rest of this Valley Post article is by James Lyall, executive director of the Vermont ACLU.

Vermonters concerned about public safety have every right to insist on solutions, and the solutions are well-known.

As John Jay College’s advisory group on preventing community violence reminds us, “Community violence is more prevalent in neighborhoods where residents face severe and chronic financial stress.” A mountain of data and research back that up — public safety hinges on the economic well-being of the community at large, and when we address extreme economic inequality and invest in community resources and support networks, crime goes down.

The fact is, we have been neglecting to invest enough in communities for decades — and it’s showing. And that was true before the global pandemic compounded those strains and stresses even further.

And yet, that part — the fact that economic and racial injustices in our communities determine how stable, resilient and safe those communities are going to be — is often left out of our conversation about public safety and policing.

Meanwhile, we have seen the resurgence of “tough on crime” narratives in places like Burlington, where the mayor is calling for more punitive criminal laws and opposing residents’ efforts to strengthen police oversight — on the dubious theory that calling for law enforcement accountability will hinder police recruiting efforts.

Putting aside the obvious questions of what kind of police culture the mayor is trying to create and what kind of officers he hopes to recruit — those who embrace being accountable to the people they serve or those who don’t — the fixation on criminalization and prisons is also deeply misguided.

It’s the same approach that has led to an explosion of mass incarceration and racial profiling in Vermont and nationwide. It has cost billions of dollars and ruined countless lives.

And, it hasn’t made us safer. Decades of history, experience, research and data tell us it’s a dead end — a massive public policy failure.

Not only does it not work — it distracts attention from the real solutions that are available to address the root causes of the many serious challenges facing our communities, and that could make our cities and towns more stable and, therefore safer for all of us. That includes badly needed investments and policy reforms in affordable housing, mental health care, addiction treatment, youth programs and education — all the things that we have drastically underfunded for decades.

Indeed, as spending on law enforcement has ballooned over the past three decades, many areas that support healthy communities and strengthen our social fabric have been cut or level-funded.

For all the talk of “defunding,” one could more accurately say that Vermont has defunded its social safety net, and the public programs and supports on which our public safety relies.

The “tough on crime” narrative also distracts attention from how our leaders are managing — or mismanaging— existing public safety resources, as well as longstanding problems in police practices and culture that still need to be addressed. Whether that’s racial profiling, abuse of power or lack of accountability— all of which undermine the public trust on which community policing is said to rely — there is much unfinished business that has been sidelined amid the police backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement.

We all want to be a part of thriving communities, and that’s what people love about Vermont — that tradition of communities supporting one another and working toward collective solutions together. It’s a big part of what makes this state so special. And that’s why we should all be committed to finding solutions that prevent crime from occurring in the first place.

Vermont has made admirable progress toward smarter, fairer criminal justice policies in recent years, and there is far more work still to be done.

That is what the people of Vermont have continually and consistently said they want — data-informed, effective criminal justice policies and investments that support our neighbors and community members, so that they don’t struggle.

Our hope for 2023 is that more state leaders inside and outside of law enforcement will reject the failed, punitive approaches of the past, focus on root causes and come together to prioritize effective solutions. Their constituents should keep urging them to do just that.


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