Wetlands Boundaries Disputed At Site Of The Proposed Eruptor Project In North Amherst

Black line shows disputed wetlands area at site of the proposed Eruptor project. Photo: amherstma.gov

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Conservation Commission, December 8, 2021

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. The recording is not yet available on the Town website

Highlights

  • Note: Application for an industrial solar array off of Shutesbury Road was withdrawn prior to this meeting.
  • Wetlands area on Montague Road property proposed for the Eruptor Project thought to be more extensive than indicated by applicant.
  • Status of a drainage pipe from the proposed UMass dorm construction site on Massachusetts Avenue to Tan Brook is uncertain
  • Over 100 suggestions received from public for Hickory Ridge land use
  • Commission okays plan for small chicken coop near the Fort River in South Amherst

Present:
Commissioners Jenn Fair (Chair), Lawrence Ambs, Fletcher Clarke, LeRoy Gaynor, Ana Devlin Gauthier, and Michelle Labbe. Absent: Laura Pagliarulo

Staff: Erin Jacques (Wetlands Administrator) and Dave Ziomek (Director of Conservation and Development)

Attendance by members of the public fluctuated between 10 and 20 attendees.

Chair Jenn Fair began the meeting by announcing that TSP/AMP corporation had withdrawn without prejudice its application for the 45 acre solar array off Shutesbury Road, so the public hearing on the project is closed, but the application can be brought back at a later date.

Wetlands Delineation On Mitchell Property In North Amherst Unclear
No representatives from the application for the Eruptor project were present at this meeting. The applicants had previously requested a postponement of the discussion until December 22. However, because of a discrepancy of the wetlands delineation at the site between the project’s reviewer and the third party -eviewer, Emily Stockman of Stockman Associates, Commission members Michelle Labbe and Ana Devlin Gauthier visited the site with environmental scientist Jonathan Shuster.

The site visit noted some wetlands indicators in the plants growing in a swath of land, extending from an existing barn to the stream, that had previously not been flagged as wetlands. Because of soil disturbance, from the property having been long used as a cow pasture, soil samples were not a reliable indicator of wetlands. However, the three noted that there was standing water in the area in dispute. If granted, the resource area delineation permitting development is valid for three years and can be extended for another three years at the request of the developer.

Fair noted that this area is contiguous with the known wetlands area, and the commission will ask the applicant, Barry Roberts, to include it as wetlands or the application risks being denied. Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacques and Shuster will flag the area as wetlands prior to the meeting on January 12. If the applicant disagrees with the delineation, he can appeal to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Drainage Pipe At Proposed UMass Construction Site May Be Obstructed
Representatives of Nitsch Engineering who are working on the plans for the construction of the UMass dorm and graduate student housing on Massachusetts and Lincoln Avenue said they were unable to document patency in one of the stormwater drainage pipes leading from the site to the nearby Tan Brook. They agreed to replace the pipe if necessary and to add a rock armory (a collection of rocks at the opening of the pipe) to prevent erosion. 

The Commission unanimously approved the application with the condition that the brook be adequately protected, and requested that regular updates be furnished during the construction.

Updates On Town Trails And Hickory Ridge
Conservation Director Dave Ziomek announced that Assistant Land Manager Brendan Kelly has resigned and will be moving out west. The Conservation Department is planning to hire someone to replace him.

The department has been working to finish repairs on the Robert Frost Trail, replacing four bridges and lots of bog walkways. Members are also finishing repairs on the K-C trail, a heavily used path from Southeast Street to the Rail Trail. Work is almost complete on the dam at Markert’s pond, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation is now happy with the alteration to the small parking area at Sweet Alice off of Bay Road. The original construction had infringed on nearby wetlands. Ziomek added that the purchase of two new trucks to replace the department’s aging vehicles is in the next year’s budget. Unfortunately, appropriate hybrid or electric vehicles are not yet available for the heavy duty trail work the Conservation Department needs.

Ziomek said the town is working out the final details of the easement for the proposed solar array at Hickory Ridge and the required PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments to the town. He expects the sale to be completed by mid-January. He recently had a meeting with the residents of nearby Mill Valley apartments. Residents of all ages attended and had many suggestions for use of the property. They suggested community gardens, a pavilion, walking trails, and even a petting zoo (from a young resident). In total, over 100 suggestions have been submitted to the town regarding the property. At its December 9 meeting, the Community Preservation Act Committee recommended allocating $150,000 for trail development at the site.

Work Resuming At Southeast Commons
Jacques announced that work on the proposed mixed-use development on South East Street, Southeast Commons, is getting started again. After the developer removed the topsoil at the site in preparation for construction, the entire site reestablished itself as wetlands. The department is working with the developer, Amir Mikhchi, to make sure the wetlands are protected.

Small Chicken Coop Approved For Mechanic Street
Erin Schefferli said she recently moved from upstate New York so her four children could attend the Hartsbrook school. In New York, the family had several acres and kept chickens and other livestock. She would like to have a small chicken coop on wheels at her Mechanic Street property that abuts a branch of the Fort River, and also construct a fenced dog run next to the house. She plans to remove all of the chicken droppings from the site and contribute them to the compost at both the Hartsbrook school and Brookfield farms.

Neighbors Matt and Julie Emerson objected to the plans for the chicken coop, saying they were worried about the noise from the birds and potential pathogens from the chickens flowing into the brook behind the property. Jacques said that the Conservation Commission was concerned with the protection of waterways and wetlands, not potential noise. She said that the small structure complied with the state statute for proximity to water sources and that the compost plan was sufficient to protect the brook. The vote was unanimous to allow the chicken coop with the condition that the compost be appropriately removed from the site.

The Conservation Commission will next meet on December 22.

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