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Final (probably) hearing on solar farm Thursday

  • The proposed solar farm is to be installed in the field behind the Four Leaf Clover in Bernardston. Recorder Staff/PAUL FRANZ



Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2018

BERNARDSTON — A final decision from the town on the solar farm proposed for the west side of Route 5 in central Bernardston will almost definitely come from a Town Hall meeting this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.

The Clean Energy Collective, the solar company proposing the project, says that it has a Nov. 30 deadline — the day after this meeting — to apply to the state’s funding program that would make the project viable. If the town doesn’t approve the plan by then, it will be the “death knell” for the project, said Joe Shanahan, the Clean Energy Collective real estate director now managing the project.

The approval that the company needs will require affirmative decisions from both the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission, who have been reviewing the plans since they were originally submitted in July. The meeting this week will comprise simultaneous hearings with both groups.

Basically, the lingering issues with the project are its potential effect on the flooding problem in Cushman Park, which is downhill from the field; and the installation’s impact on the town’s aesthetic.

Of those two issues, the second seems to be the more incendiary among townsfolk. Planning Board Chairwoman Chris Wysk said she received a petition signed by over 150 people opposing the project on the basis of its appearance.

On that front, a town bylaw requiring that solar arrays not be visible from historic districts will likely be relevant to the Planning Board’s decision, Wysk said. The Powers Institute is considered a historic landmark.

Hoping to address that issue, Shanahan said, the Clean Energy Collective has revised its plan to remove all the panels on the slope, reducing the size of the installation from 22.5 acres to about 17.

Also relevant, Wysk said, will be the Bernardston Master Plan’s stated goal of preserving the town’s rural character.

“That’s going to be key,” she said.

The other major issue — the potential for the installation to exacerbate the area’s flooding problem — has been a concern for town officials since the hearings began, and is now being reviewed by the Conservation Commission.

At the Conservation Commission’s last meeting, the project’s stormwater management plan was found to be below state legal standards. Shanahan said that the latest revision of the plan corrects that with multiple drainage ditches designed to slow the water’s flow into Cushman Park.

“We think we’ve now got a plan that everybody can get on board with,” Shanahan said.

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.