State agency makes case for Mount Tom quarry 

  • The entrance to the quarry on Mount Tom. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/12/2021 4:27:09 PM

HOLYOKE — The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation says a proposed project to fill the Mount Tom quarry with soil from construction sites will lead to decades of commercial vehicle traffic, increased carbon emissions, reduced public access and harmful impacts on wildlife.

Those concerns were part of DCR’s response to a Gazette article about the quarry fill project, which Holyoke businessmen Matthew Donohue and Timothy Kennedy have proposed as a way to restore the land to something close to its original state. Their for-profit business, Mt. Tom Companies, owns the quarry property, though DCR has an option to acquire it. The company is trying to get that option tossed out in federal bankruptcy court.

The proposed fill project, as well as the wrangling over the quarry property and adjacent land, has stirred debate in the region since late last year.

Donohue and Kennedy argue that their project is in the best interests of the environment and that it will transform a dangerous and barren property. DCR, however, has argued that the project would be detrimental to the environment and public access to the area.

“In a continued effort to protect vital habitat and natural resources on Mount Tom, the Department of Conservation and Recreation looks forward to completing the transfer of the quarry property abutting Mount Tom State Reservation in order to create a continuous protected landscape that benefits wildlife and improves outdoor recreational opportunities, while enabling the implementation of long-term management and safety plans around the quarry,” DCR spokeswoman Olivia Dorrance said in a statement.

In its statement to the Gazette, DCR noted that the state acquired its option to purchase the quarry property in 2002 when it purchased more than 144 acres on the mountain from the company. That was part of a broader effort to protect 380 acres together with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Trustees of Reservations and the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club.

The agreement allowed Mt. Tom Companies, then known as Mt. Tom Ski Area Inc., to continue quarrying operations for another decade, after which DCR could decide to accept title to the property.

“In short, DCR already paid MTC for this land and is entitled to the deed,” the agency said, adding that the quarry property sits in the middle of the 380-acre reservation. “DCR paid the value for the 2002 Option to protect a variety of rare and common plants and animals and to provide outdoor recreational opportunities to Holyoke residents and the greater region. In October 2020, DCR informed MTC that it believed the project will lead to commercial vehicle traffic and does not fit into DCR’s conservation and recreation efforts on Mt. Tom State Reservation.”

DCR said it intends to place signs and a perimeter rope around the top of the quarry to warn visitors of its rim, and to install a gate to limit car access to the quarry floor.

The state agency also said that Mount Tom Access Road, which provides a path to the reservation and quarry lands, will allow for pedestrian access to those conservation lands and will enable the creation of safe and permanent trail connections.

“Protecting the quarry parcel and integrating it into DCR’s parklands will also create a connected landscape for plants and wildlife to thrive, which is critical to their survival in the face of climate change,” DCR said.

DCR said it notified Mt. Tom Companies of its intent to exercise its option on Dec. 7, 2020, creating a deadline for the company to deliver to DCR the deed to the quarry by March 8. However, DCR said the company asked the state for a 30-day extension until April 7, which the state granted. Mt. Tom Companies filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 25.

The fate of the property currently rests in the hands of a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge. In its bankruptcy petition, Mt. Tom Companies lists DCR as a creditor, with its option to purchase the 16 acres as its claim. The company also lists its $327,263 in unpaid real estate taxes owed to the city of Holyoke and $93,336 in loans owed to Site Reclamation LLC, which is Donohue and Kennedy’s other company that owns nearby property.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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