Guest columnist: Expand the park at Mount Tom, stop the dump

  • Danielle and Joe Arsenault, of Holyoke, take in the view at Mount Tom Reservation, a year ago. Gazette file photo

Published: 6/16/2021 1:23:36 PM

A portion of Mount Tom is at risk of becoming a landfill, courtesy of a developer who has proposed — contrary to its legal obligation — to fill an inactive quarry site with junk soils from development sites that contain solid waste. As members of the local land trusts who have worked for years to protect the unique and precious natural resources of the Connecticut River Valley, we oppose this proposal, and we are writing to explain why and to ask you to oppose it, too.

Mount Tom is the beloved mountain shared between Holyoke and Easthampton. Along with the Mount Holyoke Range, it defines the scenic beauty of the Valley. It hosts 22 miles of popular hiking trails, including the New England National Scenic Trail. Much of the mountain is already a natural park that many thousands of people enjoy. Mount Tom has been painstakingly conserved by land conservation trusts, including the Kestrel Land Trust, The Trustees of Reservations, the Pascommuck Conservation Trust, and Mass Audubon, along with public agencies, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the cities of Easthampton and Holyoke.

Mount Tom is a mountain that people love.

There are lots of reasons to oppose a landfill on Mount Tom. But perhaps the simplest one is that the landowner — the developer who owns the inactive quarry — actually has a legal obligation to transfer the property to the DCR. The commonwealth has held a legal option to acquire the land with the quarry on it since 2002. Unfortunately, the developer has broken this contract and is resisting the rightful land transfer to expand the public park. They even filed for bankruptcy to try to escape the terms of their legal obligation.

This is not how voluntary land conservation works. Land trusts and our public partners are dedicated to buying land from willing sellers through transparent, legal transactions. The current landowner acquired this land knowing full well that the commonwealth already held a right to acquire it. Such legally binding agreements are the cornerstones of land conservation. This landowner must honor their agreement, just as hundreds have done over many decades, to create public conservation land.

Beyond the compelling grounds of the legal obligation, here are two more reasons to protect this land:

■A dump of this size would add considerable commercial dump truck traffic to residential areas of Route 5, highway off-ramps, and hiking locations along the Mount Tom access road, which would continue over 20 years time. These dump trucks would bring increased pollution, noise, and congestion to the surrounding community, diminishing quality of life as well as any future eco-tourism-based economic development plans.

■The high level of commercial activity could create disruptions in the habitat of animals, birds, and plant life on the mountain, including wetlands now established within the quarry, nearby streams, and nesting sites for peregrine falcons.

Too many people — and other living beings — rely on Mount Tom for it to become a dump.

Please contact your state and local officials to ask them to ensure that the old quarry site becomes an official part of the Mount Tom State Reservation. The mountain needs your help.

Kestrel Land Trust Executive Director Kristin DeBoer submitted this column on behalf of the Kestrel Land Trust, Mass Audubon, Pascommuck Conservation Trust and The Trustees of Reservations.
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