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Ashburnham hopes ‘Green’ label leads to more green

ASHBURNHAM – The town has begun the process to become a designated green community, which will make it eligible for special grants from the state.

The Green Communities Designation and Grant Program is an initiative of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

“It looked like a good opportunity to get grant money,” Town Administrator Doug Briggs said.

He said with recent developments, such as the town’s alternative-energy bylaws for solar arrays and wind turbines, and the multiple solar-farm projects in town, Ashburnham had already been evolving into the type of community the Green Communities Designation has in mind.

Briggs said the requirement the town still needs to achieve is to adopt a stretch building codes, which is a set of building codes that requires certain energy-saving materials, design and construction techniques.

The town is exempt from the town-owned, energy-efficient vehicle requirement because the only vehicles owned by the town are police cruisers, firetrucks and public-works vehicles. Briggs said the standard applies only to such vehicles as sedans and pickups used by town officials like the building inspector, but Ashburnham doesn’t own any of those vehicles.

Briggs said it’s unknown how much grant money the town would receive upon designation, but used $150,000 as a ballpark figure. However, he said the actual grant amount will depend upon how the state ranks the town’s attributes, including community size and relative earnings, compared to other municipalities, and could vary dramatically.

The Montachusett Regional Planning Commission is assisting the town with its application to be a designated green community. Briggs said he expects the process will be finished in the spring or early summer of 2014.

A public hearing about the stretch code’s zoning changes will be held at today at 6:30 p.m., at the Ashburnham Public Safety Building.