Mill River History Trail Seeks More CPA Funds. Shutesbury Road Solar Project Hearing Deferred Until November 29


Upper Mill River historic canal and dam site. A site on the propiosed North Amherst History Trail. Photo:

Report of the Meeting of the Amherst Conservation Commission, November 8, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Present: Michelle Labbee (Chair), Jason Dorney, Andrey Guidera, and Bruce Stedman. Absent: Alex Hoar and Laura Pagliarulo

Staff: Erin Jacques (Wetlands Administrator) and David Ziomek (Assistant Town Manager)

Mill River History Trail Project Completes First Phase 
The group of North Amherst residents from the District One Neighborhood Association has completed the first phase of its project to develop a history trail from the North Amherst Library to Cushman, using local Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds. The ultimate goal is to trace the history of the area along the Mill River from pre-colonization time until the present, noting significant sites,making them more accessible, and providing historical interpretation. The first phase involved marking four historic sites that have archaeological remains. The group now plans to approach the CPA committee (CPAC) to request additional funds so that it can hire two half-time consultants and a project manager to document the 12 or more sites that do not have remains. The third phase will involve signage with QR codes linking to more in-depth historical descriptions.

The group has published a two-volume work (see here and here) with text and photographs documenting the history of North Amherst. Cat Stryker collected horseshoes that were unearthed during the excavation for the addition to the library  once the site of a blacksmith shop, and plans to  raise money for a sculpture to be made out of them. Bryan Harvey noted that the most recent stage in the history of the area was when the town turned parts of it into  conservation land.

Conservation Commission Chair Michelle Labbee suggested that the group include an ecological history of the area, including wildlife and fish, and highlight the watershed’s seasonal land use by indigenous residents. The commission mentioned that member Alex Hoar, who was not present, has done extensive research on indigenous tribes and fisheries in northern New England/Canada, and Bruce Stedman suggested that the group include indigenous people in further research and planning.

Third Party Survey Required for Shutesbury Road Solar Project
The Conservation Commission is requiring that PureSky Energy (see for information about PureSky, formerly known as Amp US, “a leading developer, owner and operator of US community solar and storage projects” since entering the U.S. market in 2016, according to its website) pay for an independent survey of the area of forest off Shutesbury Road that is planned for a 41-acre solar installation and associated battery storage. Andrew Chabot of PureSky said the delineation of the site has not changed much from the area permitted in 2020; the previous permit has expired. His company recently surveyed the area and placed some new flags to indicate nearby wetlands. Emily Stockman of Adams, Massachusetts- based Stockman Associates will conduct an independent survey of the site. 

In public comment, Luke Legere, a Boston attorney representing Jenny Kallick, an abutter of the project, said that he would like to be present during Stockman’s survey. Wetlands Administrator Erin Jacques said it was an unusual request and she would need to ask town counsel if it is allowed. Chabot suggested that the landowner, W. D. Cowls, might object.

The public hearing on the solar project will be continued on November 29.

Boardwalk at Sweet Alice Conservation Area Is Complete
Assistant Town Manager Dave Ziomek said that the Conservation Department staff, working with the Kestrel Trust, completed the pond loop boardwalk on the Kestrel-owned Sweet Alice Trail in South Amherst. Kestrel donated all the materials for the project.

Sustainability Director Stephanie Ciccarello had an eight-foot fence installed around the Fort River Community Gardens to protect the gardens from the deer that decimated the crops this past year. Ziomek hoped that this measure would prevent wildlife from damaging the plots.

The Massachusetts Wildlife Association’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program is evaluating the Hickory Ridge site to ensure protection of turtle habitat and the Fort River. When the survey is complete, the conservation department can finalize the plans for an accessible trail at the site. 

Conservation Commission Vacancy
Ziomek also announced that there is a vacancy on the Conservation Commission and that interested members of the public should fill out a Community Activity Form (CAF). CAFs are kept from the public eye.

The Conservation Commission will meet again on November 29.

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