Solar Project Deals with Bad Surprise

            The Old Middleboro Road Solar array project came up for discussion in the Rochester Conservation Commission meeting held on February 16. Though the project has already entered the construction phase, development has come to a halt after issues relating to the ancient way bordering the site were raised.

            Austin Turner, representing the project, explained that due to faulty survey data of the area, a previously plotted ancient way noted in the plans had been drastically misrepresented. Turner explained that where it was previously believed that the ancient way would fork and travel around the site, the reality is that the ancient way runs directly into the proposed area of work.

            Under the provisions of the project filing, the applicants for the solar project are required to ensure that the ancient way is maintained and is upheld as one continuous path from start to finish. As such, Turner now faces a major dilemma in project development, as construction cannot be completed according to the Order of Conditions without satisfying the Ancient Path requirements.

            The position of the path also makes relocation within the limit of work even more challenging. A stormwater basin, also a requirement for the construction of the solar array, sits in direct conflict with the simplest route for reconnection of the ancient way. This means that Turner will need to snake the path around the basin in order to reconnect it.

            Turner admitted that he had limited time to arrive at a solution for the problem but advocated for a selective amount of vegetative clearing outside of the proposed limit of work to redirect the ancient way around the site.

            Conservation Commission Chairman Michael Conway explained that conducting work outside of the predetermined boundary would likely require an amendment to the Notice of Intent or a complete refiling for the project.

            Turner told commission members that he would work to create a new proposal that would be more agreeable to their requirements and limit or completely eliminate any work outside of the project’s boundaries. Once they receive an updated proposal, commission members agreed to visit the site to gain a more detailed understating of the issue.

            Bill Madden of G.A.F. Engineering joined the meeting to provide updates on an Enforcement Order issued to Makepeace regarding complaints issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

            Madden provided commission members with an overview of the Morse Swamp Reservoir, which has come under review due to dredging activities and soil displacement in the area. The roughly 30-acre reservoir is the primary water source that feeds into the Makepeace cranberry bogs located nearby.

            According to Madden, constantly fluctuating water levels in the area made it difficult to accurately determine the scope of the reservoir. He explained that the area in winter looks significantly different than in spring or summer.

            Conservation Commission Member Kevin Thompson expressed the importance of accurately determining the limits of the reservoir and surrounding wetlands areas, as a misrepresentation could lead to the destruction of protected resource areas if they are not accurately identified. Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon echoed Thompson’s sentiment and recommended that commission members make a site visit to the area to further understand any work that might be proposed in a future Notice of Intent filing.

            The next Rochester Conservation Commission meeting is scheduled to be conducted via Zoom on Tuesday, March 2, at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Conservation Commission

By Matthew Donato

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