Joe Fiori outlined the plan to the Conservation Commission but also told the neighbors that the company will be before the Community Development Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and will hold a neighborhood meeting as well.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Ridge Avenue-area neighbors feel blindsided by a plan to construct a 6.6-megawatt solar facility at the Pontoosuc Country Club.
The Boston-based solar developer Nexamp Inc. is looking to take over 25 of the 131 acres on the course for a photovoltaic array. The planned array is located on the southern portion of the property — the Hancock Road side of the first handful of holes.
Nexamp's business development manager Joseph Fiori told the Conservation Commission on Thursday night that the project is a "community solar" one and residents will be eligible to receive discounted savings from it. He said other than the cutting down the trees between the fairways, there will be minimal tree removal.
"The landowner is interested in maintaining the rest of the course to potentially keep as a nine-hole course," Fiori said.
The owner of the club Jeff Moxon has been debating what to do with it. The course has taken somewhat of a turn for the worse in recent years and, earlier this year, ownership determined it would no longer operate as a public, 18-hole, course. There had been some other options for the land but ultimately Nexamp came forth with a plan.
"It is an ideal site for a solar project," Fiori said, adding that it won't be visible from Ridge Avenue and screening and landscaping will provide the same lack of visibility for the neighbors to the north.
But neighbors who live on Ridge Avenue or the small, unaccepted roads spanning from Ridge toward the course only found out about the plan in the last day or two.
Deborah Goddeau said the owners of Pontoosuc in March took down some trees, which she was told was for a solar array, and it caused significant water issues on her land. The water table rose, her pool was damaged, and the land is soggier than ever.
"It has lifted the foundation in my garage," she said.
She lives to the northeast of the property so she wonders what will happen when all of the trees from the fairways are removed. If the water doesn't run toward Hancock Road, then those living on those small streets will have the same, if not worse, issues as the water will flow toward Pontoosuc Lake.
"This area is densely populated so the impact will be tremendous," said Tom Murphy, of Wren Street.
Engineer Kelly Fike, from SVE Associates, said the water flow was reviewed by a hydrologist and the plan would push all of the water to the south. She later added that the planting on the land will be allowed to grow taller than the grass on the golf course.
"This development actually improves drainage on the site," she said.
Following the meeting, Benjamin Downing, who is now vice president of new market development for Nexamp, talked with neighbors in hopes of alleviating their concerns.
Those were just two of nearly a dozen neighbors with concerns about the project. They had just received notice that the company was seeking the OK to build from the Conservation Commission. They crowded City Council chambers on Thursday hoping to have a say.
They have many more concerns than water flow, but Chairman James Conant restricted the conversation to the Wetlands Protection Act because that's all the Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over. The project will go to the Community Development Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals as well, where issues such as traffic, visibility, noise, and the like will be taken up.
"This is really not the best way to get started," Murphy said.
The neighbors have concerns with the three months of construction, the access road from Hancock Road, the visibility and screenings. And after the meeting, they made that clear to Nexamp's team, including a familiar face in Benjamin Downing, the former state senator.
After the Conservation Commission determined it wanted to take a site visit on Sept. 29, Downing, Fiori and Fike spent some time listening to the neighbor's concerns, outlining the process, and — maybe most importantly — working out a time and place to have a neighborhood meeting to air those issues.
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