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The Conservation Commission continued a number of hearings until November on Thursday night.

Pittsfield ConCom Continues Solar Array Hearing For Another Month

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Conservation Commission needs more time before rendering its decision on a hotly debated solar array at the Pontoosuc Country Club.
 
The Boston-based solar developer Nexamp Inc. is proposing a 6.5-megawatt solar array on 25 of the course's 131 acres of land. But neighbors have been fiercely opposed to it and have been fighting it at every turn. The Conservation Commission needs to give its approval on a portion of the work that is in the wetlands buffer zone.
 
Nexamp first took it to the Conservation Commission close to six weeks ago and the commission opted to perform a site visit. On Thursday, the commission again opted to continue the hearing until mid-November after neighbors raised concerns particularly aimed at the impact cutting a 130-foot construction access road will have on the environment.
 
"If it actually endangers the wetland functions, then that is cause to reject this proposal," said Michele Rivers-Murphy, representing a room full of neighbors. 
 
Murphy said hundreds of trees will have to be cut for the access road be built to the property from Hancock Road and it will be just 17 feet from wetlands. She said the ecosystem in that are will be endangered because of potential leaks of chemicals from the panels, noise during construction will cause wildlife to flee, and the loss of trees affect water system. 
 
Nexamp officials, however, downplayed the impact saying that the access road will only be 130-feet wide during construction. After that, the road will be just 15 feet. The wider width is to make it easier for trucks to deliver the panels.
 
The representatives added that once the panels are installed, much of the grass that is currently cut short for golf will be allowed to grow back, improving the ecosystem.
 
Nexamp has adjusted the plan a few times to help accommodate the neighbors. According to engineer Kelly Fike, from SVE Associates, the plans were most recently tweaked to reduce the amount of tree cutting. She added that white pines were added for screening, which was something the opponents said would be needed if the project goes through.
 
"We reduce about an area of tree clearing from the site from the previous plans," Fike said. 
 
But the process with the Conservation Commission also led to a new look at where the wetlands actually are, bringing them closer to the project. That drew some particular concern from the Conservation Commission. Member Jonathan Lothrop pushed for a continuance to review the changes and consider the impact the project will have — which Nexamp's Business Development Manager Joseph Fiori agreed.
 
"We took a lot of information in tonight, I'm not sure I am ready," Lothrop said.
 
The decision extends the saga even longer. In order for the project to move forward, both the Conservation Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals needs to give stamps of approval. The Zoning Board of Appeals also continued its hearing on the project in order to take a site visit. The board is expected to have it back on its agenda in November.
 
Nexamp's project is looked to use about nine holes of the golf course and Pontoosuc would switch to a nine-hole course. 

Tags: conservation commission,   solar array,   wetlands,   

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