State, owners reach $900K deal to conserve Mount Tom parcels

  • Matthew Donohue, co-owner of Mt. Tom Companies, stands inside the quarry at Mount Tom in July 2021. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Entrance to the quarry at Mount Tom. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2022 8:04:18 PM
Modified: 6/16/2022 8:02:03 PM

HOLYOKE — The state has agreed to pay nearly $1 million to buy two parcels of land on Mount Tom, including the quarry, from the owners as part of a settlement agreement to end a protracted battle over the future of the property.

Under the agreement, the Department of Conservation and Recreation agreed to pay $900,000 to two companies owned by Holyoke businessmen Matthew Donohue and Timothy Kennedy to acquire the 16-acre quarry property and a neighboring 22-acre parcel on the former Mount Tom ski area.

For well over a year, DCR has been in a dispute with one of those companies, Mt. Tom Companies Inc., over its intent to fill the quarry with soils unearthed during regional construction projects — described as a “clean fill” by Donohue and Kennedy and a “dump” by opponents.

In late 2020, DCR had attempted to exercise its right to acquire the quarry land for public use under a provision included in a 2002 purchase agreement it signed to buy over 144 acres of the company’s former Mount Tom ski area for $1.3 million.

But Mt. Tom Companies filed for bankruptcy in March 2021 in the hopes that a federal bankruptcy judge would void that option.

On Wednesday, the company’s bankruptcy case was dismissed, however, after the parties reached a settlement agreement and no objections to it were filed. A hearing on the matter, originally scheduled for Friday, has been dismissed.

As part of the deal, the state will pay $300,000 to Site Reclamation LLC — another company controlled by Donohue and Kennedy — for the former ski resort property. Donohue and Kennedy purchased that property in 2020 after DCR missed a deadline to make an offer on it because the Holyoke City Council declined to immediately act on DCR’s request to waive a procedural notice requirement the agency must follow any time it buys property in a municipality.

Site Reclamation bought the property, which was assessed at nearly $1 million, for $100,000 from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke. The transaction caused some controversy at the time because the president of the Boys & Girls Club was Eileen Cavanaugh, Donohue’s sister, and then city councilor James Leahy sat on the club’s board. At a City Council meeting, Donohue said that his sister recused herself from the transaction and that Boys & Girls Club board Vice Chairman Matthew Mainville took on those negotiations.

A voicemail left for Cavanaugh went unreturned Thursday afternoon.

The state’s deal with Donohue and Kennedy also includes a $1 payment to Mt. Tom Companies for the quarry parcel and $599,999 for the company to settle its debt obligations, which included $327,263 in back taxes to the city of Holyoke and $93,336 in loans to Site Reclamation. After the company settles its obligations, the remainder of the money will go to Donohue and Kennedy.

Reached by phone Thursday afternoon, Donohue declined to comment on the agreement because it is not yet complete. He said that closing on the two parcels will take place “by the end of the month.”

In a statement, Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia described the settlement as a “very good outcome” that keeps both parcels of land in state control and will make them safe for the public.

“The city receives over a quarter of a million dollars in back taxes owed,” Garcia said. “We waived around $75,000 in interest to bring this to a conclusion.”

Garcia said that the city was grateful to collaborate with the state to finalize the deal.

“The former landowners are out of the picture and a Holyoke landmark is now in proper hands,” Garcia said.

Donohue and Kennedy’s plan was to fill the quarry over two decades with soils tested for contaminants, after which they would turn it back over to the state and allow the land to return to its original state.

Environmentalists and other local opponents of the project, however, said they worried about contaminated soils entering the quarry and about the many trucks spewing exhaust as they rumbled up and down the mountain to dump dirt in the quarry, where the removal of rock ceased in 2012.

The primary group in opposition to Donohue and Kennedy’s proposal, No Dump on Mount Tom, expressed relief at the fact that the state will be taking over the land.

“We’re thrilled to learn that both the Mount Tom Quarry and the old Mount Tom Ski Area parcel will now be conserved for the enjoyment of all for generations to come,” the group said. “This was the original intent of the 2002 agreement, and it’s certainly been a long time coming!”

DCR has said that in the decade since quarrying work stopped, nature has flourished at the site. The settlement agreement noted the presence of “two certifiable vernal pools, the return of native plants, and renewed use by state-listed species” at the site.

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

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