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State still hopes to preserve Mount Tom site of planned wind turbines

  • Bray Tower at  Mount Tom State Park.
  • New playground in the process of being built in the Mount Tom State Park.
  • <br/><br/>New playground in the process of being built in the Mount Tom State Park.
  • <br/>Bray Tower at  Mount Tom State Park.
  • <br/>Bray Tower at  Mount Tom State Park.

Meantime, James Lavelle, the company’s general manager, said this week that while initial plans to construct the wind turbines fell through, it has not given up on wind energy projects entirely.

The Mount Tom project has been taken off the front burner, however.

“Right now, we are not actively pursuing any wind project on Mount Tom,” Lavelle said. “We don’t have a wind project in mind that we’re going to actively push.”

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation, along with the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, had options to acquire land bordering Mount Tom State Reservation if the utility company’s wind project failed to meet certain deadlines. Those options are spelled out in a development agreement the entities reached with HG&E when it acquired the property for $1.9 million in 2009 from John Gormally Jr. of Springfield Towers LLC and Gormally Broadcasting LLC, which owns ABC affiliate WGGB Channel 40.

“It doesn’t appear at this point that they’re going to be able to produce a viable project there,” said DCR Commissioner Edward M. Lambert Jr. “It’s an important acquisition for us and we want to follow through. We just need to figure out some of the intricacies of that original agreement.”

The agreement states that MTC, a quasi-public economic development agency, had the first option to purchase the property, the deadline for which long expired. The state DCR had the second option to acquire the mountain acreage, but has yet to act on the agreement, in part because of terms and conditions it finds “unusually complex,” according to its draft resource management plan issued last month.

One local official believes all of the property, which borders the Easthampton and Holyoke lines, should be protected from further infrastructure development.

“The land really should be incorporated into the Mount Tom State Reservation,” said Easthampton Mayor Michael A. Tautznik. “The fact that there’s a tower there makes it that much more complicated.”

Sticking points

The stage agency says acquiring the property has been complicated because the gas company has constructed a 190-foot-tall lattice tower on one of the parcels in question since the development agreement was signed. Holyoke Gas & Electric officials have said the tower was necessary to assess wind power resources and attach telecommunications equipment.

Construction of the tower, which required Holyoke city officials to rewrite its ordinances for tower siting, continued early last summer after the Federal Aviation Administration denied the company’s wind turbine proposal for a second and final time in March 2012. The FAA ruled the company’s proposal to construct five, 500-foot wind turbines along the mountain range would be a hazard to air navigation.

HG&E had not filed new wind turbine project plans with the FAA as of this week, according to the federal agency. Lavelle said the company is focused on other renewable energy projects, including solar installations in the region.

“Our objectives are to continue to try to reduce our carbon footprint and use the resources we have,” he said.

It is not clear how aggressively the state is pushing to acquire the property, though DCR officials say they are pursuing both the HG&E mountain property and another 16.4-acre parcel known as the Mount Tom Quarry, for which it also holds an option to purchase. Acquiring the scenic and environmentally diverse properties would add to the Mount Tom State Reservation holdings, according to state officials. “That’s all in process right now,” Lambert said of negotiations with HG&E.

Lavelle said HG&E intends to cooperate with DCR, consistent with the terms of the development agreement involving the parties. He also said HG&E plans to complete its talks with DCR before it begins populating the lattice tower it constructed on the mountain last year with telecommunications equipment.

When HG&E acquired the 270 or so acres in 2009, about 200 were to be set aside as protected land in addition to producing energy from wind turbines, a project championed by Gov. Deval Patrick.

“This project from the very beginning was a conservation and renewable energy endeavor,” Lavelle said.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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