Shutesbury solar lawsuit to move forward Friday

  • A group of people concerned that a proposed solar energy project may be located on Native American burial grounds review a special permit issued by the planning board during a meeting earlier this year. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Saturday, November 19, 2016

SHUTESBURY — A lawsuit aimed at temporarily preventing a large-scale solar project from being constructed on land that some suspect is a Native American burial ground is not yet settled.

A status conference on the federal civil rights lawsuit, filed by three Shutesbury and two New Salem residents against the developers and the Planning Board that approved the project, is set for Friday at 10:30 a.m. The conference before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni will be held at the U.S. District Court in Springfield.

The aim of the lawsuit is to make sure the 6-megawatt project on the 30-acre Wheelock Tract off Pratt Corner Road, owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., doesn’t go forward until tribal historic preservation officers and others can get onto the property and determine if it is a burial ground or sacred site.

Michael Pill, the attorney representing W.D. Cowls, said the solar project is still proceeding in spite of the lawsuit.

Rolf Cachat of Shutesbury, who is a lead plaintiff, said he offered to settle the lawsuit by negotiating on narrow issues, but the attorney for developer Lake Street Development of Chicago refused.

“We are asking only for a standard assessment of suspected burials and native relics, and for some form of restored access for religious practitioners,” Cachat said. “We are supported by our faith and our ancestors in this effort to secure equal protection for all graves and religious cultural heritage.”

Miriam DeFant, a member of the Alliance for Appropriate Development, said she understands that the developers are obligated to file a notice of intent with the federal Environmental Protection Agency for a construction general permit. This permit, as a federal undertaking, would trigger the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act and allow the tribal historic preservation officers’ demand that they be consulted.

So far, these officers have not been allowed on the site, though an archaeologist surveyed the property on behalf of the developer.

The lawsuit continues to delay a project that would provide the town about $50,000 a year, as well as supplying more green energy to the power grid.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.