ConsCom Seeks More Information On Planned Battery Storage Facility In North Amherst.  New Policy Needed For Geothermal Wells.


Photo: Blue Wave Solar

Report On The Meeting of the Amherst Conservation Commission, September 28,2022

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded. The recording can be viewed here.

Jenn Fair (Chair), Fletcher Clark, Michelle Labbe, Andrey Guidera, Alex Hoar, and Cameron Macuch.  Absent: Laura Pagliurulo.

Staff: Erin Jacque (Wetlands Administrator) and Dave Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager)

New Members Welcomed To Commission
This was the first meeting for newly appointed Conservation Commission members Alex Hoar and Cameron Macuch.  Hoar worked for the US Fish and Wildlife Service for over 30 years. Macuch is an Environmental Science major at UMass.

More Information Sought On Drainage At North Amherst Battery Storage Site
The commission continued its discussion of the 18.87 megawatt battery storage facility planned by BWC Eastman Brook LLC and Blue Wave for about one acre at the former Annie’s Garden Center at 515 Sunderland Road in North Amherst.

Josh Laricy and Drew Vardakis of the engineering firm Wood Massachusetts presented a review of the site and the project. Jacque noted that a site visit determined that the outlet of a culvert draining stormwater from the site was either crushed or covered over. More information on the condition of the culvert was needed before the project could be approved. Commission Chair Jenn Fair suggested that soil test pits be dug to determine how water drains from the site.

Alex Hoar asked if there was a possibility of leakage from the batteries and if any substances in the batteries could contaminate groundwater. Lariscy answered that each battery contains less than a liter of lithium salt hermetically sealed within the battery, and each battery will be placed on a six-inch concrete slab. He said the risk of leakage is low and that the lithium salt is more of a slurry than a liquid. In the case of a leak, there would be a spill response. He has discussed safety with the fire chief. The Conservation Commission also requested a copy of the spill response procedure.

In other discussion, Lariscy said that there will be 12-foot gravel paths between the rows of batteries to permit vehicle access. Because the site is flat, little grading will be necessary. The only excavation would be for the concrete piers to support the slabs and the batteries. No herbicides will be used in the project.

The hearing will be continued on October 12 to discuss drainage and the response procedure in the event of a possible leak at the site.

New Policy Needed For Geothermal Wells
With more applications for permits for geothermal wells being filed in Amherst, the Conservation Commission wants to examine its policy for evaluation and approval of these projects. Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacque said that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection considers geothermal wells as “minor activities”, but in Western Massachusetts regulation is delegated to the towns. In Amherst, The Board of Health is charged with evaluating permit requests but about 20 percent of applications are for wells in wetlands resource areas and also need review by the Conservation Commission. Jacque said that geothermal is a popular source for heating and cooling, so she expects the commission will be seeing more applications in the near future and is worried about applications backing up.

Creation of geothermal wells is similar to digging a well for water service, according to Jacque. Most residential wells are dug to about 500 feet and commercial projects have multiple wells to 300 feet. The systems consist of PVC pipe underground in a fluid-filled closed loop system. At present, permitting requires a Resource Description and Access (RDA) approval if the project is near wetlands. Commissioners requested more information on what kind of equipment is used to drill the wells, where the wells can be located in relation to the wetlands, the implications for conservation and water supply, and how excavated soil is disposed of. Jacque said she will continue to gather information and the topic will be discussed at a future meeting. For now, there will be no change in the approval policy.

Proposed New House On Canton Avenue Requires Contribution To The Wetlands Mitigation Fund
Pete Wilson plans to construct a single-family home on Canton Avenue. Because the site is close to wetlands and on a slope, the commission was concerned about stormwater drainage affecting nearby properties, but Wilson and wetlands consultant Mark Stinson determined that runoff from the property would not impact the neighboring properties or the street.

The proposed 12-foot driveway will have four-feet of gravel on either side and there will also be a rain garden to minimize runoff. Even with the gravel and rain garden, there will still be an increase in impervious area on the site requiring wetlands mitigation. Because there is no room for this mitigation at the site, Wilson agrees to contribute trees and bushes to the Wetlands Mitigation Fund for the protection of wetlands in other areas of town. He proposed to purchase an appropriate number of blueberry bushes, red maple trees, and arbor vitae to compensate for the wetlands being lost. The cost of the required plants was uncertain, so the hearing was closed but the final orders for the project will not be issued until the commission meets on October 26 and the cost of the replacement plants is specified.

Other Conservation Commission Determinations
Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek noted that the town council had approved the gift of over five acres of land on Vista Terrace in South Amherst. The plan is to develop a trail system that will connect with the Holyoke Range, but that will require a hearing before the Conservation Commission due to extensive wetlands in the area. He said that the parking area on Vista Terrace will be blocked off with boulders until the trails are established.

Ziomek also announced that he planned to submit a proposal for community preservation act funds to support trail work elsewhere in town. Proposals were due on September 30.

The commission approved a plan for Neil Parks and Leslie Lau to build an external staircase to the art studio over their garage. The property is on Fearing Street close to the Tan Brook. To increase water absorption, Parks and Lau plan to remove much of the asphalt on their driveway and will add willow stakes on the slope near the brook to combat erosion. The plan received favorable comments from neighbors Rolf Karlstrom, Michelle Hosp, and Freddie Manning, and was approved unanimously by the commission.

Plans for a garage addition and covered storage for a boat within the 50-foot wetlands buffer zone on the property of Neil Wilson on Kestrel Lane were discussed and the hearing postponed until October 12 because of concern about the increase in impervious area near the wetlands. Jacque also noted that invasive autumn olive plants at the site should be removed. Although Wilson did not want to use a herbicide to remove the plants, the commissioners felt that spot application of herbicide would be needed to keep the plants from coming back.

Discussion of the 68-unit private dormitory planned by Archipelago Investments for 47 Olympia Drive was also postponed until October 12 because the commission needed more information on stormwater management and soil composition from test pits. Even though a similar building was constructed next door at 57 Olympia Drive in 2016, wetlands regulations have changed in the interim, and new test pits need to demonstrate that the soils are the same at the new site. Kyle Wilson of Archipelago pointed out that this is the only remaining tax-paying property in the fraternity zone, and the town desperately needs more student housing.

The Conservation Commission will meet next on October 12.

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