Tree-Trimming Project Refocuses on Wires

Throughout the course of its meeting held on May 19, the Rochester Conservation Commission moved to address a number of Notices of Intent filed by applicants seeking approval by the commission in order to go forward with project planning.

            Up second were Paul Shamoian of Civil & Environmental Consultants and Dan Peters of SEMASS Partnership, who came before the commission in order to represent a Notice of Intent meant to act as retroactive approval for emergency tree trimming and tree removal that took place in March.

            The tree trimming took place in order to protect overhead wires and fiberoptic cables that connect the SEMASS and Eversource switchyards. Shamoian explained that the majority of the lines run through the 25-foot “no touch” wetlands buffer zone. With that, he explained that the trimming and removal of trees had to take place in order to prevent catastrophe. “A damaged line would put the plant down for weeks,” Shamoian explained.

            Commission member Christopher Gerrior expressed confusion as to why no one anticipated that trees intentionally added to the area might interfere with the power lines.

            “The trees were initially installed as a decorative enhancement, but they have grown to be a substantial problem,” said Peters. “Since we were requesting emergency work, we could not work beyond trimming to eliminate the hazard.”

            Vice Chairman Daniel Gagne mirrored the concerns put forth by Gerrior and questioned why the powerlines were not moved to a less hazardous location. Gagne’s primary concern was that if more significant action is not taken, then this will be a recurring problem. “Eversource should plan to move these lines, so that this does not come before us again in a couple years,” Gagne told Peters.

            After discussion with Peters and Shamoian, Chairman Michael Conway agreed that a plan was necessary to permanently resolve the issue. He suggested the addition of maintenance plan for the overhead wires to the NOI.

            “I believe, as a condition for Notice of Intent, SEMASS should issue an operating plan talking about how it is going to inspect these trees on a semiannual basis. Then they can provide that inspection to the conservation agent. We should get this over and done with once and for all,” Conway said to the commission members.

            The commission voted in favor of a motion of continuance on the issue to June 16 to allow time for such a plan to be prepared by the applicants.

            Norene Hartley, who was heard first, met with the commission to determine if a proposed repair to a subsurface, sewage-disposal system would require the submission of a Notice of Intent. The repair to the system would require work to be done within the 100-foot buffer zone of a vegetated wetland.

            Brad Bertolo of JC Engineering, representing Hartley, explained that this is only a project requiring an upgrade to an already existing system. Though the system is in close proximity to a wetland area, the new leeching facility will be introduced in the gravel driveway on Hartley’s property and will not impact the wetlands.

            After clarifying that the project was strictly a repair to existing systems, Rochester Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon recommended that the commission put forth a motion of a negative determination of applicability, meaning that no NOI would be required for the project.

            The commission passed the motion, allowing the project to go forward without any further input from the commission members.

            Rick Charon of Charon Associates, representing David and Janet Kielty, expanded on a NOI filed to request installation of an in-ground pool on 30 Bates Road, Rochester. Charon noted that the house in question is within the Sippican River-front area. Charon submitted an alternative analysis that provided the reasoning for how the current construction plan was adopted.

            “We get no closer than any existing structures would be,” said Charon. “Priority habitats are to the south of the developed area of the lot so it leaves the area that we are dealing with outside of that priority zone.”

            Farinon displayed images of the property to better explain how the potential plan would affect the property and the surrounding areas. 

            “I see no reason why this project can’t be done without adverse impact,” Farinon explained to the commission members. “My recommendation is to issue a positive order of conditions with the stipulation that a preconstruction meeting be held.”

            Satisfied with the plan, the commission voted unanimously in favor of a positive order of conditions.

            In other business, Brian Wallace of JC Engineering, representing a project at the Village at Plumb Corner, requested a determination of non-significance for a proposed plan to construct a gas line.  The gas-line work would not require any additional land clearing to be completed.

            Wallace described how the planned gas line would run alongside the roadway and that previous plans did not accurately demonstrate how the gas line would feed into each unit. The determination by the commission was necessary for Wallace to proceed with his application for construction with Eversource.

            “I think Mr. Wallace summarized this well. The limit of work for installation of the gas line is nothing beyond what the commission has already approved. It is my opinion that this is a minor change,” said Farinon.

            The commission determined that the changes were insignificant and allowed the plans to go forward.

            The final Notice of Intent to be addressed at the meeting dealt with the construction of new canals and a solar system at the Eldredge Bogs. Sarah Stearns of Beals and Thomas, Inc. represented the NOI filed by Hank Ouimet of Renewable Energy Development Partners.

            Stearns outlined that the building of a new canal is an exempt activity under current Wetlands Protection Act laws. “The goal of the project is to build canals to improve the cranberry bog’s operations,” said Stearns.

            According to Stearns, the intention of the NOI is to install a new form of solar array canopy above the canal. The solar canopy does not impede on farm operations and provides a renewable energy source to the bog. The proposed solar canopy is advantageous, because it requires no tree removal or the occupation of land that could be used for agricultural use. “The idea is to not constrain farming operation by the addition of the solar project,” Stearns added.

            Gerrior questioned the impact that these canopies would have on the local wildlife that occupy the areas surrounding the canals. He hoped to determine positive and negative outcomes for wildlife and vegetation in these areas.

            “Research says that the height (of the canopies) allows for indirect and direct solar radiation to support vegetative growth, and the shading effect decreases water temperature which is an agricultural benefit,” Ouimet explained to Gerrior. With that, Ouimet admitted that the novelty of the technology meant that he could provide no empirical evidence to support those theories.

            The commission voted to request continuance of the issue to June 16. This came after the decision that the commission would conduct an on-site visit to the bog in order to better understand plans for construction.

            The next Rochester Conservation Commission Meeting is scheduled to take place on remotely on Tuesday, June 2, at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Conservation Commission

By Matthew Donato

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