Discussion on Pine Meadow Road solar proposal in Northfield to continue next month

  • An early site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows three proposed solar arrays off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. SCREENSHOT

Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2021 4:17:01 PM

NORTHFIELD — After roughly four hours of discussion, the Planning Board voted to continue its public hearing on the proposed solar arrays along Pine Meadow Road until next month, and requested that the developers modify their plans for one of the three arrays.

The Planning Board will reconvene to continue the public hearing on March 18, at 4 p.m. On Thursday, 65 people attended via Zoom, including members of the Planning Board, Four Star Farm property owners and project developers from BlueWave Solar.

The project would consist of three solar arrays on land owned by the L’Etoile family and Four Star Farms off of Pine Meadow Road. As an agricultural dual-use project, the plan is to continue the agricultural use of the property while supporting the on-site operations.

Speaking Friday, Planning Board Chair Stephen Seredynski said he thought the hearing incorporated productive discussion and provided an opportunity for everyone to address concerns or ask questions about the project.

After discussion, the Planning Board requested the developers make changes to the design for Array A based on recommendations made by consultant Beth Greenblatt of Beacon Integrated Solutions, the Planning Board, the Historical Commission and other input Thursday. Further recommendations were made by Selectboard member and Historical Commission Chair Barbara “Bee” Jacque.

In an email sent to the Planning Board Thursday, before the public hearing opened, Jacque referenced the Beacon Integrated Solutions’ report, stating “The applicant did not address whether Array [A, B or C] is located within Priority Heritage landscapes or local or national historic districts.” In her email, Jacque submitted a report that explains the Historical Commission’s review of the site plan documents.

In the report, Historic Commission members recommend an assessment from “an archaeologic and historical consultant who knows the Colonial, Contact and Pre-Contact periods in the Connecticut River Valley and has experience with local tribes.”

“Development and history are both important to Northfield,” reads the Next Steps section of the report. “History in this area has the potential to generate visitors and tourists to Northfield. Think Lexington or Concord with a longer reach further back in time. Land and history are both valuable — projects in both benefit from careful, proactive planning and risk avoidance.”

Given the size and scale of the project and design plans that include trenching and below-grade construction, the Historical Commission requests the Planning Board conduct an assessment with a consultant who understands Section 106, a federal law that requires consulting with tribes. Jacque in her email wrote that Section “106 will be triggered if any federal agency (e.g., FERC, EPA, Army Corps of Engineers) becomes involved.” The Historical Commission also requested consultation with local and Indigenous resources.

“NHC can attest to the benefit of consulting early in projects with the Elnu Abenaki tribe and other tribes,” the report reads. “We are happy to advise on any of the above points with all parties involved in this process.”

Speaking Friday, Jacque said Thursday’s hearing, as organized by Planning Board Vice Chair Meg Riordan and Seredynski, was a “measured, productive discussion on a very complex topic.” She said the meeting format could be used as a model for Northfield and other towns when discussing “contentious” topics.

“Some of the biggest concerns directed to us, and on Nextdoor, have been visual concerns about it,” Seredynski said Friday. Nextdoor is an online community forum.

Seredynski said this problem can adequately be addressed with appropriate screening. He also said he intends to be specific about the type of shrubs, trees or vegetation that may be planted to ensure they will grow tall enough to provide adequate screening.

Resident Chris Kalinowski, who lives on Pine Meadow Road, said he is concerned not only about the visual impact, but the potential effect on his property value.

Jackie Firsty, BlueWave Solar’s director of project development, said her company conducted a study of houses next to solar arrays across the state, and found no evidence of a decrease in property values as a result of their proximity to solar arrays.

Seredynski said Friday he had independently looked into the impact of solar arrays on neighboring property values.

“If a landfill is built across the street, of course your property value will go down, but with (solar), that is not necessarily the case,” he said.

Kalinowski also asked why the property owners, Bonnie and Eugene L’Etoile, are not proposing the arrays be built on another parcel of their land farther away from other residential homes.

Eugene L’Etoile explained that other parcels of their property, specifically those by the Connecticut River, are conserved under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) and cannot be used for such development.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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