Tom Murphy cited a traffic report which led to the heavy truck ban on Hancock Road.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The neighbors around the Pontoosuc Country Club have mounted a coordinated attack in opposition to the proposed solar array.
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. The plan takes over the southern portion of the project -- the corner closest to Hancock Rock and Ridge Avenue -- and leaves enough space for the club's owner to operate a nine-hole course.
The neighbors said they were somewhat blindsided by the proposal when it came before the Conservation Commission in September. This week, armed with poster boards, photos, and research, the neighbors coordinated a lengthy opposition argument to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which has the authority to grant the special permit.
"We do have a couple of other people who want to talk about the safety and health and you should listen because we may not get another opportunity," said Michele Rivers-Murphy, who called residents to the podium one by one to express concerns.
Chairman Albert Ingegni had made it clear early that a vote would not be taken that night and that the board was planning on taking a site visit. He directed detailed questions to be answered at a forum between the developer and the neighborhood.
But the neighbors had already met with the company and were not satisfied. A handful of neighbors attended the Conservation Commission's meeting with more general questions about the proposal after not hearing about it beforehand.
Nexamp promised to meet with them. In early October, there was a neighborhood meeting held at the library on the project.
"I'm happy to set up another meeting with abutters. Our normal practice is to, in addition, to send out abutter notifications, is to set up a community meeting. We did one at the end of the month and about 60 people were present," business development manager Joseph Fiori said.
Neighbors brought concerns on Tuesday as well to the Community Development Board, which has a limited scope of authority on such a project.
Along the way, the neighbors felt like they weren't being listened to and on Wednesday, they came fully prepared.
Screening, traffic, safety, and tree cutting dominated the impassioned plea against the project for close to two hours.
Anthony Contenta, a construction worker by trade, started first raising concerns about the construction vehicles coming to the property. Nexamp is planning on building a new access road to the property from Hancock Road and that will mean dozens of tractor-trailers trucks bringing material there.
"There are 18,000 panels on this project. The panels, they say, is going to be 30-35 tractor-trailers for the panels. Besides that, there is going to be fencing around this," Contenta said, estimating more than a dozen more trucks in and out of the property.
He added, "This area is very congested. They are going to put this roadway that is kind of a blind area."
Fiori said the entire construction would last six months and it would only be a couple days of heavy traffic at a time, not six months of ongoing work.
Contenta called for a traffic study on the road. Tom Murphy picked up where Contenta left off saying there was already somewhat of a study done by Fuss and O'Neil. Just last month the city of Pittsfield approved a truck ban on Hancock Road based on the results of that report.
Citing the report, Murphy said the road in that area is between 18 and 20 feet and there is little visibility for exiting driveways in the area. Hancock Road has steep hills and throughout there are various caution signs. He said the City Council, the state Department of Transportation, and city officials -- including the mayor and commissioner of public services -- supported the ban because of the road condition.
The residents also questioned decommissioning. Fiori said the company is prepared to give the city a bond for decommissioning and he estimated that to be at $200,000.
Rivers-Murphy, however, cited a separate report estimating that a five-megawatt array would cost about $300,000, and this proposal is larger. She also cited the city's decision to require another solar company on Churchill Street to put down $250 a year toward decommissioning, which she said results in just a few thousand dollars and not enough to "get the lawn mowed."
ZBA member John Fitzgerald learning the layout of the proposed array, which the board will get a closer look at during the site visit.
"This is like a GE site right in the middle of a residential area and who is going to pick up the solar dump?" she said. "This is a wider issue about community solar and where it is going."
Ray Jones doesn't abut the golf course. His property in Lanesborough is next to the Churchill project and he is a landscaper by trade.
His experience was that the only thing done right on that project was that the company screened it with large white pines. But Nexamp is proposing smaller arborvitae, which Jones doesn't feel does the neighbor's justice.
"It isn't about generating electricity. This is nothing but generating profits for an out-of-town company," Jones said, calling on the board to at least make the neighbors whole by ensuring they do not see the array.
Meanwhile, the trees in the fairways are expected to be cut. Rivers-Murphy said there are a lot of trees on the property and that the state has guidelines for solar that discourage tree clearing.
Fiori said that is partly why the site was chosen -- the golf course is mostly wide open. But the amount of tree clearing remains somewhat of a point of disagreement with the neighbors fearing that too many will get cut down and the company feeling like there won't be as much. Engineer Kelly Fike, from SVE Associates, said the tree cutting was narrowed to four acres of the land.
Nonetheless, Rivers-Murphy continued reading the guidelines that urge solar arrays to go in industrial or agricultural areas and not residential ones like the Ridge Avenue area. Solar arrays are allowed by the city's zoning in that area of the city.
Resident Jeff Bradway characterized the project as a "power plant" and questioned what type of impacts it will have on the neighborhood now and in the future.
"This is a project that we here today and our children and our grandchildren will have to endure for the next 20 years at least," he said."Does it make sense to spoil its natural assets?"
He cited the open industrial land downtown, near a rail line, that could easily be used for an array instead.
As the neighbors wrapped up their thoughts, the ZBA opted to continue the hearing until November and hold a site visit to see the issues for themselves in the meantime. Ingegni impressed upon Nexamp that they "have a lot of work to do" and said another neighborhood meeting needs to be in order to answer the detailed questions some of the neighbors posed Wednesday.
"The plan is for us to get educated on this project also. In the meantime, we are going to try to facilitate a dialogue between the applicant and the neighborhood," Ingegni said.
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