Hickory Ridge trees coming down for Amherst solar project

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 02-01-2023 9:08 PM

AMHERST — A wide variety of about 200 trees are being removed on the former Hickory Ridge Golf Course property this week to get 26 acres of the town-owned site prepared for installation of a 6.44-megawatt solar array and 3,500-kilowatt battery system.

Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek said on Jan. 25 that the felling of trees, including white pines, oaks and maples, at the 191 West Pomeroy Lane site is necessary so Amp Solar Development Inc. can undertake the project on the 150-acre property acquired by Amherst last year for $520,000.

“They are getting going right away, and beginning to clear trees in the solar area,” Ziomek said. “We are asking for the public’s patience and understanding.”

Since the golf course closed after the 2018 season, and the town agreed to buy the property at a discounted price, Hickory Ridge has become an increasingly popular place for hikers, cross country skiers, birders and others interested in the natural environment.

Ziomek said only a fraction of the thousands of trees on site are being cut down. “There will still be plenty of room and there will be space to move around there,” he said.

None of the trees being cut are within protected resources including wetlands, the Fort River that cuts through the property, or areas identified by the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program.

In addition to the tree clearing, a necessity so that panels are not shaded and aren’t compromised by falling limbs, one of five bridges over the Fort River will be improved and reinforced. The developer is seeking a building permit for this work.

“There is only one bridge that is robust enough to be improved,” Ziomek said.

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All construction equipment will go over that bridge and it will also be there for emergency vehicle access in the future, including for the town’s fire engines.

Erosion controls and construction fences will define the work area, and signs are also being posted so the public will know where it is welcome to be on the property. The parking area will also remain available and unchanged, and plans for new and improved walking trails will not be affected by the work.

Meanwhile, the power generated by the solar project is being purchased by the city of Springfield. Last February, Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that getting the green energy from the site meets the city’s Climate Action and Resilience Plan and would save Springfield $1.6 million in electricity costs over a 20-year period.

Amherst will be receiving payment in lieu of lease of $65,000 to $75,000 each year from the solar developer.

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