Shutesbury planners ask solar project developers to check site more thoroughly for Native remains

  • Rolf Cachat-Schilling announces during a Shutesbury Planning Board meeting Wednesday that he has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Shutesbury and Lake Street Development officials over concerns that Lake Street is proposing to build a solar array on what opponents say may be a Native American cultural site. GAZETTE STAFF/CHRIS LINDAHL

  • GAZETTE STAFF/CHRIS LINDAHLResident Miriam DeFant reads a letter summarizing concerns regarding an archaeological assessment conducted by Lake Street Development, at a Shutesbury Planning Board hearing Wednesday. Lake Street plans to build a 6-megawatt solar array on land that some residents say may contain Native American cultural sites.

  • GAZETTE STAFF/CHRIS LINDAHLDoug Harris, preservationist for ceremonial landscapes for the Narragansett tribe, speaks during a meeting of the Shutesbury Planning Board, Wednesday, about a proposal to build a solar array on what some say is land that might contain Native American cultural sites.

@cmlindahl
Published: 8/18/2016 12:47:39 AM

SHUTESBURY — After over two hours of hissing, sign-holding, shouting and a warning of an impending haunting, the Planning Board on Wednesday voted to ask developers of a proposed solar project to complete a more thorough review of their property to ensure it is not the site of Native American burial grounds.

But the developers of the planned 6-megawatt array, W.D. Cowls and Lake Street Development, are under no obligation to agree to that additional review.

The board in June approved a special permit for the 30-acre project with a condition that the developers hire an archaeologist to survey the land to ensure the array wasn’t being built on any possible Native American cultural sites.

That archaeologist, Jessica Schumer of SWCA Environmental Consultants, determined that what was suggested to be a set of burial mounds is actually root balls.

While the archaeologist hired by the town, Eric Johnson of the University of Massachusetts, agreed with that assessment, he said the report had “significant shortcomings” regarding methodology and said the land should be reviewed by a representative from a New England Native American tribe.

It was this point that proved to be one of the biggest concerns for opponents of the project Wednesday. The applicants have refused to allow a tribe cultural representative on the property.

Town Attorney Donna McNichol said if Cowls, the private landowner, chooses not to allow an assessment by a Native American cultural expert, there’s nothing town officials can do about it.

“Towns and planning boards only have so much authority,” she said. “We’re stretching it to the limits as it is, and we can’t stretch it any further.”

But legal reasoning didn’t stop the outcries.

Three police officers stood guard at the back of the room as spectators held up signs reading “Banksters go home!” “We object” and “Let the TIPOs see,” an acronym used to refer to cultural experts, while others took a louder approach.

“This is absurd!” said Doug Harris, preservationist for ceremonial landscapes for the Narragansett tribe. “This is not the American way — what you’re doing is ignoring the past.”

A soft-spoken Chairman Deacon Bonnar, interjected amid the shouts: “Please, please, you can’t do this!”

The exchange proved to be too much for resident Rolf Cachat-Schilling, who held signs and wore a T-shirt bearing messages against the project. “Liars!” he exclaimed, as he threw one of his signs and stormed out of the room.

Cachat-Schilling interrupted the meeting earlier to announce that he had filed a federal civil lawsuit Wednesday against Shutesbury and Lake Street officials, alleging deprivation of free speech and due process.

That prompted attorney Michael Pill, who represents Lake Street, to run over to Cachat-Schilling and question the veracity of that claim. “What’s the docket number?” Pill asked.

Cachat-Schilling said the lawsuit is being served to Pill by mail.

Dressed in Native American attire, Loril Moondream said she walked the property before it was posted with no trespassing signs. She observed that the mounds were of uniform height and length, but it was what she couldn’t see with her eyes that gave her more pause, she said.

“I had a very spiritual feeling there,” she said. If the solar array is built, “I think a lot of spirits are going to be in your town and it’s going to be a bad spiritual feeling.”

Resident Miriam DeFant read a letter summarizing concerns about Lake Street’s archaeological assessment.

The most important concern, she said, was the failure to consider that the federal government in 2008 designated a 16-mile radius around the Turners Falls airport as a ceremonial hills district, meaning that the area, including the site of the proposed array, has a high number of Native American ceremonial sites.

Lake Street has two weeks to reply to the board’s request that it undertake the additional assessments recommended by Johnson. Those include using ground penetrating radar to look at what might be buried underground, taking soil samples, including historical context about Native American land use in the report, and allowing a Native American tribal cultural expert to assess the property.

Lake Street Managing Director Zachary Schulman said he would look at Johnson’s recommendations and respond to the board’s request within two weeks.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.


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