By Elisa Campbell
At long last, after much work, several projects are coming to fruition in Amherst this spring or summer.
Solar collectors on the old landfill north of Belchertown Road: The panels of solar photovoltaics are fully constructed and installed. They are not yet connected to the grid – that process is controlled by the utility and some communities have experienced long delays. However, on June 14, I saw workers installing poles and wires, so work is progressing. We’ll be ready when Eversource decides to flip the switch!
As I reported last winter, projects like this are done by private companies through a contract with the town. Town government will officially be an “off-taker” for the power produced by this project, and will get credit for the power generated there. That’s expected to be 4 megawatts, which covers about two-thirds of the Town’s energy use for buildings, lights, etc. The company building (and owning) the project will pay the Town $78,000 a year for 20 years as rent for the land; some of that will be in the form of a Payment in Lieu of Taxes.
Conservation restriction to protect the Grasshopper Sparrow: As you may remember, the town first applied to put collectors on both closed landfills (north and south of Belchertown Road) in 2015. During the studies about whether the closed landfills were suitable for arrays of photovoltaics, it was discovered that Grasshopper Sparrows, an endangered species, were nesting on the closed landfills. In order to both protect the sparrows and allow the installation of solar panels, the Town committed to an enforceable Conservation Restriction (CR) on the south landfill to protect it as nesting habitat for the Grasshopper Sparrow.
The CR has yet to be completed, but this spring the town has been installing the fence around the perimeter, as required. The work to establish the exact location for the fence revealed that the cap over the landfill in some places extends farther than was originally thought. In the future, it will be put around the restricted area, with a viewing platform so people can see the grassy area (and, I hope, both the sparrows and bobolinks, which also nest there). The perimeter path will be on the current terrain in a space 5 feet wide.
Stephanie Ciccarello, the Town’s Sustainability Coordinator, and Dave Ziomek, Assistant Town Manager, have met with all the abutters on the west side of the landfill to clarify property boundaries and the limits of the cap. The CR will not interfere with the sledding hill that is entered from Wildflower Drive.
The Kestrel Land Trust will hold the Conservation Restriction, which means Kestrel will make sure that the rules are followed. Kestrel holds Conservation Restrictions on many conservation areas and other land that is officially protected throughout the Connecticut River valley and nearby hills.
As Ciccarello said, neither the solar installation nor the reservation for the sparrow would have happened without a formal Conservation Restriction.
Dog park: The dog park on Old Belchertown Road is nearing completion. Fences and some structures have been installed, and newly planted grass is growing. There are two sections for different-sized dogs. When the dog park opens (it is hoped that will be in late July) it will be open to all dog owners.