Conservation Commission Sets Conditions For North Amherst Battery Storage Facility And Private Dorm On Olympia Place. White Paper Explores Impact Of Solar Arrays On Drinking Water

Compact battery storage container from Blue Wave Solar. Photo: Blue Wave Solar

Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Conservation Commission Meeting October 26, 2022

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

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

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

Commission Worries About Ground Contamination Under Proposed Battery Storage

In a continuation of the September 28 discussion of the proposed 18.87 megawatt battery storage facility on the site of the former Annie’s Garden center , Drew Vardakis of Wood Engineering said the group had corrected the placement of flags delineating the wetlands border and dug test pits to test the soils. He also said the company redesigned the drainage trench and added a containment trench, both lined with an impermeable membrane to protect the soil in case of battery leakage.

Josh Lariscy of Blue Wave and Eastman Brook, LLC said no contaminants were found in the soil test pits. He assured the commission that each battery would be enclosed in its own chamber so that no material would leak out into the ground in the event of a rupture, but several members of the Conservation Commission wanted to ensure more protection for the soil and groundwater than the six inch concrete pillars in the plan.

Laura Pagliarulo also worried about toxic chemicals that would be used to fight a potential fire in the batteries. Lariscy said that the company has its own fire suppressant composed of nontoxic materials that would be stored on the site, and that he had spoken to the fire chief about the plans. Pagliarulo also thought the town should require a decommissioning bond with the company. The lifespan of the batteries is 15 to 20 years, and there needs to be a plan to dispose of the lithium in the batteries and to test the soil after decommissioning.

Lariscy said he would speak to Blue Wave about additional protection at the site and return to the Conservation Commission on November 9 with an emergency response plan and further information on protection in the event of a battery leak.

Archipelago To Pay Into Wetlands Mitigation Fund For Loss Of Wetlands On Olympia Drive
Plans for construction of a second private apartment style dormitory on Olympia Drive will exceed the allowable permanent alteration of the wetlands buffer zone. The Wetlands Protection Act allows an alteration of 20 percent of the area, but the proposed building will occupy 27% of the buffer zone. The former sorority on the site that will be demolished for the new construction is entirely outside of the wetlands buffer zone. Civil engineer Mark Stadnicki and Kyle Wilson of Archipelago LLC said that, although 85% of the wetlands will be disturbed during construction, the company will replant all but the 27% of the site occupied by the building. Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacques said her survey showed no non-native plants on the site, but a lot of poison ivy.

Commission members Alex Hoar and Michelle Labbe were concerned about the loss of wetlands, so Chair Jenn Fair suggested that Archipelago could compensate the town with a contribution to the Wetlands Mitigation Fund to be used to improve wetlands in Amherst. Labbe and Jacques will develop a schedule for appropriate reimbursements for wetlands loss to bring back at the November 9 meeting when the hearing will continue.

Draft White Paper From Water Supply Protection Committee On Impact Of Large-Scale Solar Arrays On Drinking Water
The Water Supply Protection Committee authored a 14-page study of possible impacts of large-scale solar arrays and battery storage facilities on drinking water, both public water supply and private wells. The paper recommends minimum setbacks and limited clearing of vegetation in proximity to public and private drinking water sources. It also details stormwater management near solar arrays to avoid soil erosion and sedimentation.

Although solar arrays present little risk of contamination of drinking water, Labbe worried that substances used to clean the panels and to limit vegetation growth around them could infiltrate into private wells.

The paper spells out more extensive precautions for battery storage, including heat sensors and fire alarms for each chamber and high pressure fire extinguishers containing Novec 1230 or equivalent, stored on site. Batteries must be situated farther from water sources than solar arrays.

The Conservation Commission members appreciated receiving the white paper and offered some comments, but Fair said the purpose of the two committees differed, and the Conservation Commission was charged with evaluating the effect of individual projects on the watershed and water supply, as opposed to monitoring the entire watershed of the region.

In public comment, Jenny Kallick noted that the Board of Health is also charged with protecting drinking water and wondered who would protect private wells. About 4.5% of Amherst residents obtain their drinking water from private wells. Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek said he would follow up with Health Director Jennifer Brown to clarify the jurisdictions of the three committees.

Community Preservation Act Proposal For Trails And Bridges
Ziomek said the Conservation Department submitted a request for $100,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to repair hiking trails and bridges in town. The town has purchased 20 properties since 2003. CPA funds cannot be used for properties obtained before that time, such as Larch Hill or Puffers Pond. Two projects slated for 2023 are the replacement of the failed culvert at the southeast corner of Plum Brook pond with a bridge so that the stream there can flow freely and decreasing the Casey Trail bridge to a more appropriate size. Labbe is is the representative from the Conservation Commission to the CPA committee.

The meeting adjourned at 9:45 p.m.  The Conservation Commission will meet again on November 9.

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