Solar project advances despite claims Shutesbury property was once burial ground 

  • Miriam DeFant, left, speaks to the Shutesbury Planning Board at Town Hall.

Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2017

SHUTESBURY — Despite contentions that the future site of a large-scale solar array contains burial grounds or a ceremonial landscape for Native Americans, the project’s developer argues that thorough examinations of the land off Pratt Corner Road have turned up no evidence to support that.

But those who are making the claim about the historic importance of the Wheelock Tract say that unless a Traditional Cultural Properties review is complete, including a review by a Tribal Historical Preservation Officer representing Native American tribes, they will continue to make the case about the problems with the site.

The issue resurfaced in a letter to the editor published in the Gazette May 3 in which several Shutesbury residents discussed the impacts of the solar project, proposed by Lake Street Development of Chicago.

Marnin Lebovits, a principal with Lake Street, said that the contents of the letter are inflammatory and an attempt to prey on the emotions of readers.

“It’s another method of NIMBYs trying to stop the process,” Lebovits said.

Lebovits points to extensive research by consultants who visited the site several times, alongside Planning Board members, and the hiring of another consultant to review this work, all of which meets federal Department of Interior standards. Lebovits said these studies determined there was no evidence the land was ever sacred ground.

“They found no Native American burials or other artifacts present,” Lebovits said.

When Lake Street begins to install the arrays, which will commence once a judge has rendered a decision in a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by residents, the panels will be located at least 15 feet away from various mounds on the site that Lebovits said are “tree throws.”

Still, Shutesbury resident James Cachat said the Traditional Cultural Properties review remains incomplete.

“That TCP review has absolutely not been performed,” Cachat said. “The applicant continues to refuse access to the site or even data tables for the site.”

Rolf Cachat-Schilling said he agrees with this view.

“To our knowledge, the applicant has refused to perform any physical tests for human remains of any kind,” he said. “Therefore, it is certainly not even investigated, let alone proven, whether human remains are present or not.”

Michael Pill, whose law firm Green Miles Lipton of Northampton represents Lake Street, said in an email Thursday that the company has met all the conditions of a special permit by the Planning Board and have proven, beyond doubt, that the land was not a burial site.

Pill said that the statements in the letter to the editor that say it was definitely a burial ground “are complete fabrications.”

He points to a letter sent from Seth Mitchell, senior cultural resources project manager for SWCA Consultants of Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, sent to Lebovits in January and submitted to the Planning Board.

“The pictures of stones presented at meetings by project opponents and that are currently found online at the project opponents websites that suggest ceremonial stone landscapes are present on the solar site are simply not accurate.”

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