To the editor:
Over the past several weeks, the Conservation Commission has received several questions about the 100 Bedford Road project (also referred to as the Wang project), which will be going before Town Meeting on March 25. The Parks and Recreation commission has put together an excellent video describing the proposal, which has two major components:
- The creation of an athletic field
- Placing 7.1 acres of land into conservation protection
There is a third aspect of the proposal related to a solar power installation that will also be presented at Town Meeting. The purpose of this letter is to explain the decisions made by the Conservation Commission regarding the proposed solar project and the processes taken that informed those decisions. The Conservation Commission strongly supports the 100 Bedford Road project and believes it represents a major benefit to conservation efforts in the Town and to the Town as a whole.
The Conservation Commission strongly supports solar energy, and the state is a proponent of using town landfills to provide solar energy. The Green Energy Committee has done extensive work in identifying potential solar sites in town and concluded that the landfill is the optimal site for a significant photovoltaic installation. At the 1995 Town Meeting, the Town voted to “permanently dedicate and restrict exclusively for active and passive recreation and open space uses, consistent with and subject to the mandate and protections of Article 97 of the Amendments to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts… the “Landfill Parcel.”
Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution grants “people the right to a clean environment and authoriz[ed] the Commonwealth to acquire conservation easements. Article 97 was intended to be a legislative ‘check’ to ensure that lands acquired for conservation purposes were not converted to other inconsistent uses.”
It is extraordinarily difficult to remove land from Article 97 protection, and to ensure that such removal is rare and to good purpose, the state has defined a rigorous series of steps that must be taken to effect removal. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) Article 97 Land Disposition Policy, commonly referred to as the “No Net Loss of Conservation Land Policy,” requires that the several steps be taken to effect removal of a parcel from Article 97 protection, including:
- The Conservation Commission must vote unanimously that the parcel is surplus to municipal, conservation, and open space needs.
- Town Meeting must support the disposition with a two-thirds vote
- The state legislature must support the disposition with a two-thirds vote
Not surprisingly, the process that the Conservation Commission followed is also quite rigorous. I’ll go through each issue that was considered:
- Have all alternative sites in Lincoln not covered by Article 97 been considered and rejected as “not feasible and substantially equivalent”? The Green Energy Committee and Solar Design Associates identified approximately 25 potential sites for solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, with a ranking system for suitability. The work showed that the landfill is the most suitable and the consensus of the Commissioners was that there are not alternative sites that are “substantially equivalent.”
- Does the disposition and proposed use destroy or threaten a unique or sensitive resource? Rimmer Environmental Consulting was hired to prepare a Solar Site Assessment and Habitat Evaluation of the landfill site and that report was completed in June 2016. The evaluation found that the proposed use will not destroy or threaten a unique or sensitive resource, and the commissioners supported this finding.
- Is real estate of equal or greater fair market value, or value in use of proposed use, whichever is greater, and significantly greater resource value provided to the municipality? The Conservation Commission then considered the 7.1 acres of the 100 Bedford Road property as the property to be provided to the town in exchange for the removal of the landfill from Article 97 protection. The potential acquisition parcels have perimeter habitat, which the commission determined are of substantially greater value (with respect to both fair market value and proposed use) than the landfill. The 100 Bedford Road property offers valuable habitat, trail connections, and vegetated buffer to other uses. The commission contacted the EOEEA and town counsel about the swap, and both parties agreed that the proposed swap is appropriate.
- Is the conversion of the minimum acreage necessary for the proposed use and, to the maximum extent possible, does it continue to protect the resources of the parcel proposed for disposition? The commission has not been presented with a final construction plan for the installation of solar panels on the landfill site. Accordingly, the commission determined that it would condition its approval (if all the other above conditions are met) on conducting a review of the construction documents in order to ensure that the resources continue to be protected to the maximum extent possible. Items the commission will examine include staging and work sequencing, fence detailing for wildlife passage, and restoration plant specifications.
- Does the disposition serve an Article 97 or another public purpose? The commission concluded that the disposition does serve an important public purpose, namely the first major source of solar PV energy for the Town. The commissioners expressed their strong support for this public purpose.
This evaluations described above were conducted over approximately one year and involved the Conservation Commission, conservation director, conservation planner, Green Energy Committee, and several consultants. On December 14, 2016, the Conservation Commission voted unanimously to remove the landfill parcel from Article 97 protection for conversion to a site for solar energy. The removal was conditioned on (1) that the 100 Bedford Road land swap, and (2) Conservation Commission approval of the solar construction plans.
In my personal opinion, the town made an intelligent decision in 1995. By putting the landfill under Article 97 protection, our citizens made it difficult for later generations to remove the land from protection without having exceptionally strong reasons. As a direct result, the outcome of this lengthy exercise will provide major victories for the town: more valuable conservation land and a large solar power installation. And we should not lose sight of the fact that the driving force behind the 100 Bedford Road acquisition is a new playing field, filling a long-felt need for the town. The solar benefit is real and the processes to enable it are complex, but to be clear, the solar benefit was a positive side effect of the playing field acquisition, not the driver of the 100 Bedford Road project. All of these positives would be gained with no additional tax burden, a serendipitous sequence of events and outcomes for the town!
Richard Selden, MD, PhD
Member, Conservation Commission and Community Preservation Committee
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