Changes to the Land: Four Scenarios for the Future of the Massachusetts Landscape. Published by the Harvard Forest and the Smithsonian Institution in December 2013, Changes to the Land: Four Scenarios for the Future of the Massachusetts Landscape is an acre-by-acre analysis of the risks and opportunities of 4 plausible land-use futures for Massachusetts. Belchertown’s land choice uses are directly connected to these scenarios. Rather than defaulting to opportunistic growth by choosing a short sighted path, we are advocating for a forest as infrastructure land use approach for solar energy development in Belchertown.
Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness
The Town of Belchertown is already taking important steps to be a community that plans with sustainability in mind. Just this April, a Community Resilience Building Report was developed. As the report states, “The Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) program provides support and a prescribed process for cities and towns in Massachusetts to plan proactively for resiliency and implement key climate change adaptation actions. In 2017, the Town of Belchertown was awarded a $15,000 MVP grant to fund the planning stage of this process. The Town partnered with Fuss & O’Neill, a state certified MVP Provider, to complete a comprehensive, baseline climate change and natural hazard vulnerability assessment and develop a list of priority actions for the Town.” At the very top of the hazards identified was flooding and precipitation. Flooding is likely to increase were the Cowls Inc / BWC plan approved as the clear cutting of steep forested land would increase stormwater runoff drastically. Listed as Highest Priority action area is:
“Conduct field inventory of culverts and bridges to rank and prioritize projects for increased flooding resiliency and storm-hardening, followed by design and implementation of priority re- sizing or replacement projects. Green infrastructure, Low-Impact Design, and other nature-based solutions will be integrated with hard-infrastructure improvements to establish approaches that will be robust in the face of natural hazards and climate-change scenarios.”
The Resiliency Building planning is a great first step. Now, lets hold the town accountable for planning in accordance with it. Even renewable energy needs to be designed, developed with intention resiliency and sustainability frameworks in mind.
Comments on the Proposed BWC / Cowls Inc Solar Installation in the Scarborough Brook Watershed
The proposed solar installation in the Scarborough Brook watershed off Gulf Road in Belchertown by BWC Scarborough Brook, LLC, presents several problems for both abutters and downstream property owners, and particularly the likelihood of increased stormwater runoff and erosion from the site. The existing land use is forest used to harvest timber by Cowls Inc. Slopes on this site are very steep, varying between 15 to 25 percent (see figure 1, below), and along with the poor potential for agricultural use create the likelihood of severe stormwater runoff and erosion from the site after development. A technical review of the "Stormwater Analysis & Calculations Report" by Meridian Associates, which contains the proposed stormwater plan for the Gulf Road site, demonstrates serious errors and unsupported assumptions about the ability of the site to contain and control stormwater runoff. For example, there is no substantial increase in the predicted runoff after site development because the model parameters used in the Meridian analysis were very carefully selected to insure that was the result. Evidence in this paper is presented for large amounts of stormwater runoff and erosion from high slope areas underlain by poor agricultural soils at a similar solar array located in West Brookfield and Ware. I would respectfully urge those responsible for stormwater analysis for Belchertown (Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Engineering Department) to find the present stormwater plan for the Gulf Road solar array inadequate to protect the abutting and downstream properties and the site inappropriate for this size of solar development, particularly for an area that is a designated flood zone, a contributing area for a drinking water aquifer, and habitat for protected species.
On October 23rd, the Planning Board will have the first public hearing on revisions to the town's solar bylaws, revisions which could prohibit any future solar projects involving clear cutting of forests — such as those of Blue Wave and Syncarpha — from going forward.
Articles 2 and 3 passed at the Special Town meeting on August 20, 2018 and those revisions are being worked on with the goal of being ready to vote on at the next May Town meeting. We'll need a 2/3 majority for that to pass in MAY so put Town Meeting on your calendars and keep it there! And try to get to the Planning Board Hearing on the 23rd to help that process go forward.
Article 2 limits the number of acres that can be clear cut for a solar installation Article 3 establishes a limit to how closely located to one another such large installations can be.