Advocates flag concerns over solar subcontractor at old Hickory Ridge Golf Course in Amherst

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-14-2023 6:51 PM

AMHERST — Advocates for solar development that protects forests and natural resources are calling on the town to do more to keep the former Hickory Ridge Country Club, and the Fort River that traverses the 150-acre property, from being harmed after learning that the subcontractor is a Pennsylvania company that reached a $1.14 million settlement with the attorney general for damaging wetlands in Williamsburg five years ago.

Smart Solar Amherst members Jenny Kallick and Michael Lapinski, who both live on Shutesbury Road, recently sent a letter to town officials outlining their demands out of worry that Dynamic Energy Solutions LLC, the subcontractor hired by Amp Solar Development Inc., was at the center of significant environmental damage in Williamsburg in 2018.

They are asking that the town require Amp to hire a paid environmental monitor to be at the West Pomeroy Lane site as the solar project gets underway, and that the company handling the work also pay a performance bond that would cover any damage and necessary remediation.

Lapinski and Kallick write that “this site leaves no room for error,” and has fragile environmental conditions.

“Given the concerns raised by this information, the Town Council, Planning Board, and ZBA should discuss whether Amp, as the party responsible for hiring Dynamic Energy Solutions, may be allowed to oversee projects now and in the future,” Kallick and Lapinski write.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said town officials are preparing a response to this appeal. On Tuesday, Ziomek said the town is using the “power of permits” to oversee the project, an Amp-paid compliance monitor will be on site reporting to town staff, and there will also be monitoring of the rare wood turtle and staff will be regularly meeting with Amp as work gets underway.

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“There are many, many safeguards here,” Ziomek said.

At a recent Conservation Commission meeting, Ziomek told the panel that there is significant oversight by the town as Amp leases 26 acres from the town for 20 years for the project that will produce 6.44 megawatts of electricity annually. The project also includes a 3,500-kilowatt battery storage system

“It’s a project that we’ll be keeping a close eye on,” Ziomek said.

Ziomek said the town has been aware of the concerns about Dynamic and the challenges related to the company’s other projects in the region.

“We’re aware of those, and we’ll keep a close eye on the project from start to finish,” Ziomek said.

The consent decree was filed in U.S. District Court in 2021 to settle an attorney general’s lawsuit that Dynamic violated federal stormwater requirements, damaging protected wetlands, and polluted the West Branch of the Mill River in Williamsburg while undertaking construction of a 4-megawatt, 17,000-panel solar energy project at a former sand and gravel pit at 103 Briar Hill Road, near the Goshen town line.

Ziomek told the commission that the project at Hickory Ridge was permitted by various boards and committees at both the town and state level.

“The solar will happen on the site,” Ziomek said.

The town wouldn’t have been able to buy the site for $520,000 if solar wasn’t part of the project, but the town was not part of the decision to bring solar to the property.

“Solar took a great deal of the value out of the land,” Ziomek said. “There was no option for us to buy without solar on the site.”

Ziomek said he is taking a lot of calls about trees being cut down on the property to make way for the photovoltaics.

The entire south side of the Fort River will remain open to the public, which can use the area for hiking, bird watching and cross country skiing where there is no construction fencing.

The town will put up signs at trailheads because people new to the project may not be aware of the ongoing construction.

“Many folks have just discovered Hickory and have said, ‘why do we have to do anything there, why we can’t we keep it the way it is,” Ziomek said. “The answer is that was predetermined before we purchased it.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>