Shutesbury voters defeat proposal to ban public access at Lake Wyola Dam


Staff Writer

Published: 06-21-2023 7:49 PM

SHUTESBURY — By a vote of 40-37, residents at annual Town Meeting on June 3 narrowly shot down a bylaw that would have banned public access to the Lake Wyola Dam and institute fines for trespassers.

Other topics on the 33-article warrant that merited the most discussion during the roughly six-hour meeting included transferring $45,900 from Capital Stabilization to buy a security camera system for Shutesbury Elementary School, and a citizens petition opposing the use of artificial turf for the track and field project at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, both of which passed.

Dam bylaw

Article 28, the proposed bylaw to ban public access at the dam, originally stated that violators would be punished by “a fine of $50 or the full extent of the Massachusetts Trespass Law.” Town Administrator Becky Torres explained residents would need to amend the language to instead say “violation of this bylaw is punishable by a fine of $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense and $300 for a third offense,” as advised by the town attorney, so as to not mix criminal and civil offenses.

While Torres’ request to amend the bylaw’s language passed, the majority of voters took issue with limiting public access to the dam altogether.

“I just like chilling. But I understand people who are not using it in a safe way,” said resident Christine Robinson, explaining that she and her daughter have spent a lot of time on the dam since moving to Shutesbury from Springfield eight years ago.

“I think there might be another solution, besides just saying, ‘You can’t go there.’”

“Some of us like to just sit and talk in a peaceful place,” said resident Ken Holt, who asked to hear data about how many serious injuries have occurred or 911 calls have been made at the dam.

“Are we prepared to limit yet another freedom based off of problems that are yet to appear or seem unlikely to appear?”

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Police Chief Kristin Burgess explained there have been “a lot of preventative potential disasters” at the

When considering alternatives to a bylaw banning access, John Kinder, assistant dam keeper, mentioned that installing a fence on top of the dam to keep the public out would essentially be installing a dam on top of a dam, creating more pressure and increasing the chance for a break. The structure, which was refurbished in 2008, was not designed to be a place for recreation, with Kinder mentioning how one family recently held a birthday party on the dam.

There are no outhouses or sanitation facilities nearby, and getting to the dam involves taking a path along an abutter’s private property, creating a liability.

With two signs in place, one that states “use the area at your own risk” and another reading “fall hazard,” some residents proposed increasing education rather than issuing a ban on public use.

“I can’t help but notice that if so many people are using it, it’s because the dam has become a valued place for recreation in Shutesbury. I don’t think we’ve been presented with evidence that our use of the dam is damaging the dam,” said resident Carlos Fontes.

School security cameras

School officials presented a $45,900 request for security cameras at the elementary school as a safety measure amid the “constant violence that we’re seeing in our country, in schools,” said Principal Jacqueline Mendonsa.

“We are probably one of the only schools in the area that does not have any sort of video equipment,” she said.

The cameras would be installed at exterior doors, with the live feed only being viewable from the front office. Only Mendonsa, Burgess and the school’s head custodian would have access to the footage, with Mendonsa noting there was an incident of vandalism last year.

“I was here when we debated whether or not we should lock our school doors,” recalled retiring School Committee Chair Dan Hayes. “That was a tough decision. For me, putting cameras on the school doors is our responsibility.”

With residents voting in support of buying the camera system, Mendonsa said “the first order of business for the School Committee and school Policy Committee” will be to draft policies outlining the use of the cameras and storage of the footage.

Track and field debate

The second to last article, a citizens petition put forward by MaryJo Johnson, solidified the town’s opposition to using artificial turf for the track and field project at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School for four reasons, as outlined by Johnson: health and safety, physical practicality, environmental responsibility, and the uncertain future of artificial turf’s condition. Johnson cited carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in the production of artificial turf, as well as the chemicals needed to maintain the material, when outlining her health safety concerns.

“There is no PFAS-free artificial turf,” Johnson said, adding that, based on her research, natural turf would be half the price.