HAMPDEN — After the Hampden Planning Board’s initial review, the Conservation Commission conducted a hearing on March 6, specifically addressing groundwater runoff and the environmental implications of Glendale Road Development’s proposed solar project at 530 Glendale Rd.

The commission will continue the review during an April 3 meeting at 6 p.m. The over two-hour March 6 meeting is on the town’s official YouTube channel.

The commission focused on peer reviews conducted by Tighe and Bond. Commissioner Judy McKinley Brewer helmed the hearing and outlined the body’s jurisdiction. The commission adheres to local state wetland protection laws and regulations.

The commission discussed the developer’s proposed solar project at 530 Glendale Rd. The commission reviewed diagrams illustrating the site’s ecological features, including potential water bodies like streams, rivers or ponds, and adjacent areas such as bordering vegetated wetlands.

These wetlands are identified by soil that retains water and specific vegetation, indicating frequent wet conditions. The presentation noted that rivers might have a 200-foot riverfront area while a 100-foot buffer zone surrounds wetlands.

The discussion also covered local regulations, including a “no disturb zone” within the first 25 feet of a buffer or the riparian area protected under Hampden’s bylaws to preserve ecological integrity.

Tighe and Bond authored a stormwater report on which the commission would base a final decision.

Melissa Cody from Tighe and Bond presented initial findings regarding the environmental compliance of the proposed solar project at Glendale Road during the commission’s public hearing. The findings, submitted on Jan. 23, scrutinized the project’s adherence to local and state environmental regulations.

Key observations from the review underscored the necessity for a duly completed environmental permit application and highlighted an oversight: the document lacked a required signature.

Additionally, Cody stressed the importance of ensuring the project’s coordination with other municipal boards, which aligns with local bylaws that mandate a review period by these entities before final decisions are made.

Further remarks focused on urging a thorough analysis to minimize environmental impacts within the specially protected area near water bodies, detailed planning for the proposed gravel driveway construction, and specific measures for environmental preservation during construction activities.

Cody’s review also called for clear documentation regarding the project’s approach to managing construction impacts, including water storage facilities, electrical infrastructure and handling construction materials within sensitive areas.

Suggestions included revising plans for underground drilling operations to avoid unintended environmental damage and outlining emergency response strategies for potential disruptions.

Additionally, the review advocated for detailed compliance with wetland preservation standards, support for design choices such as culvert installation at water crossings, and a more precise depiction of the project’s efforts to mitigate its environmental footprint.

Cody recommended considering vegetation preservation strategies along waterfronts and conducting wildlife habitat evaluations, demonstrating a comprehensive approach to environmental stewardship in the project’s development.

McKinley Brewer wanted assurances that onsite battery materials would not harm the wetlands, especially if they leaked.

She highlighted efforts to minimize noise from cooling batteries, which is crucial for protecting nearby wildlife habitats. The focus is on critical areas along the riverfront and forest.

McKinley Brewer also suggested modifications to transformer containment to ensure environmental safety despite the non-toxic nature of transformer fluids. Concerns were raised about the adequacy of a horse track used as an access route to support construction traffic, urging a reassessment of its suitability.

Additionally, McKinley Brewer recommended riverfront restoration near the barn to rehabilitate a degraded area, indicating a proactive approach to environmental preservation alongside the project development.

The conversation also touched on the decommissioning process for solar panels, the efficiency and lifespan of the technology, and the impact on local water sources, including wells.

The discussion concluded with a consensus on exploring alternative layouts to minimize environmental impacts, particularly focusing on preserving riverfront areas and adhering to conservation principles.
The integrated solar facility, if approved, would generate 4.92 megawatts of power while providing grazing land for small to medium-sized animals, a venture involving Ledge Valley Farm, which is already active on the site.

The proposal detailed plans for a project supporting energy production and agricultural practices by allowing sheep, cattle and chickens to graze on the land.

This initiative highlights the relationship between renewable energy generation and farming, designed to maximize the land’s utility while promoting environmental sustainability.

The project’s comprehensive review is set to continue in the coming months, requiring the developer to navigate Hampden’s regulatory landscape. Key to the proposal is its approach to environmental stewardship, particularly in managing stormwater runoff.

The project plans to implement stormwater management basins and leverage existing natural and man-made infrastructure to minimize environmental impact. This includes only minor clearing of wooded areas, use of existing fields without significant grading, and strategies to maintain ecological balance.

Attorney Adam J. Costa, who represented the developer before the Planning Board, pointed out that the project aligns with both state exemptions and local zoning laws, stressing the importance of a balanced regulatory approach.

The initiative, which also plans for minimal ground disturbance and water conservation measures, is positioned as a model for integrating renewable energy with traditional farming practices.

Dennis Hohenberger
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