Heath 18-year incumbent challenged for selectboard Friday
HEATH — Incumbent Selectboard member Brian De Vriese faces a challenge in his re-election bid to another term on the board. Heather Row is also running for the selectboard seat in the Friday annual town election. Polls will be open that day from noon to 7 p.m. at the Senior Center. No one is running on the ballot for a two-year unexpired term on the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee.
The following candidates are running unopposed on the ballot for election to three-year terms: Assessor Heather Hathwell, appointee; Moderator Eric Sumner, incumbent; Finance Committee Kathryn Inman and Library Trustee Emily Cross, appointee. Incumbent Planning Board member William Gran is seeking another five-year term, and Constables Robert Bourke and Steven Thane are seeking re-election to one-year terms.
Brian De Vriese
De Vriese has been on the Selectboard for 18 years, and if re-elected, he will be serving his seventh term. Before that, De Vriese served for a decade on the town Conservation Commission. De Vriese, 66, is an architect based in Shelburne Falls. As a board member, he would like to see that the transition of Heath Elementary School students to the Hawlemont Regional School is smooth and that the 1995 Heath School building — which he helped to shepherd — will be re-used in a way that benefits the town.
De Vriese said the board will commission a study group to review options for re-using the school building, which has a middle-mile broadband connection.
“It presents opportunities for businesses that require broadband,” he said. “Now, we need to generate some activities that would provide revenue to run the building.”
Bringing high-speed broadband into the rest of Heath is also a major priority, he said. Since Heath won’t be getting the $2 million state grant that was approved by former Gov. Deval Patrick for a highway garage/public safety complex, “we need a Plan B,” De Vriese said. He said the board has been looking for other grants that might help to renovate, repair or add onto existing buildings.
When asked about what has been accomplished in his six terms, De Vriese pointed out that the board closed and capped the Three-Town Landfill.
“The negotiations over cost sharing with Charlemont and Hawley were difficult and prolonged. We also worked long and hard to get financial assistance from the state,” he said. De Vriese worked with the board to renovate and develop the Heath Community Hall and Senior Center. He said the board has made the town coordinator position more professional and developed a personnel policy and a financial management plan. The board is working to get a “green community” status from the state and De Vriese would like the town to go forward with plans for recreation and for forestry with the 338 acres of town-owned forest.
Row moved to Heath seven years ago and has been chairwoman of the Energy Advisory Committee and a Broadband Committee member. Currently managing commercial real estate, Row is also raising a herd of milking sheep. Row says the town’s tax rate of $20.99 per $1,000 valuation is too high, compared to that of surrounding towns. She also believes the town needs more economic development and more “community gathering spots.”
As head of the Energy Committee, Row has been working to obtain a $135,000 Green Community Act grant for the town, to be used to reduce the town’s energy use and cost, while leveraging grants for future energy reduction projects.
Row said she wants to see that Heath gets a broadband system “that fits our needs and our budget,” which will increase home values and attract new residents. Row has also been active in promoting Heath’s Farmers Market, selling vegetables, sprouts and baked goods. In her campaign statement, Row said she is looking for economic development and joint efforts with other towns.
“Let’s get together and discuss where Heath residents would like to see the town heading and brainstorm what types of economic development make sense.”
Row says Heath could showcase the talents of its artists, performers and musicians in summer arts programs, film festivals or food events to raise money for the town library or other town needs, bringing more social activities to the town while benefiting the local economy.
On the town public safety complex, which has been in limbo after a promised $2 million state grant was canceled, Row said the Highway and Fire Department buildings “are in very bad shape.” She said the town needs to do something, but “I do not support planning a project which is beyond our needs and means.”
Before moving to Heath, Row was a Bank of Boston commercial lender for 13 years, the chief financial officer of a shoe business and was the business unit manager for Amherst College’s Center for Community Engagement, which trained students active in volunteer organizations.