Judith Mann: Cowls floats a past-denied subdivision plan in Belchertown

Friday, May 31, 2019

On May 13, 400 residents in Belchertown voted overwhelmingly at the Town Meeting to approve new solar bylaws, limiting the size, scale and placement of the mega-arrays threatening the community.

However, one day before the vote, the Cowls Corp filed subdivision plans for all of its property in town, in the belief that the resulting freeze on changes to bylaws will allow an already-denied project to go forward. If you don’t follow the logic, you are not alone. If you sense a tactic to scare small government into settling an expensive court case, you are not alone.

The solar project in question is touted as “a farm,” as “renewable energy,” and allowable due to “landowners’ rights.” The project will permanently destroy 50 acres of forests, on hillsides, in a watershed — but it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars. The company’s “conservation efforts” are in actuality conservation deals: $14 million in the past five years alone (from taxpayer and private sources) allows for private ownership and continued forestry, in return for no development.

True conservation protects resources, and landowner rights extend to both large and small entities. Town committees recognized this — Planning and Conservation denied the poorly designed and oversized Cowls project, based on risks of flooding and damage to protected fisheries and property.

But old habits die hard, and already the considerable company resources are on display. Still, on occasion, it has been forced to walk away. Let’s hope this is one of those times. Drive up Gulf Road to the Scarborough Conservation area (site of a struggle against a vast Cowls development over a decade ago) and enjoy the landscape now, in case it is eventually reduced to eroding, bare bedrock. I call for (another) boycott of the company and ask that concerned residents make their voices heard.

Judith Mann