Supporters of moratorium not ‘Anti-Solar’

  • The construction of two solar arrays on two large parcels between Lyons Hill Road and Secret Lake calls for the erection of utility poles across this earthen dam at one end of the lake. Greg Vine

  • Looking across Secret Lake at wooded areas that may be subject to clear-cutting if two proposed solar arrays were to be approved by Athol officials. Many Secret Lake area residents fear the impact of the arrays on wildlife, aesthetics, property values, and the health of the lake. —Greg Vine

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 6/17/2019 9:50:19 PM

ATHOL – The Select Board voted recently to schedule a special town meeting to consider a town-wide moratorium on solar array projects. Asked if it surprised him that the board’s vote was unanimous, Secret Lake Road resident William Hogan said, “To a degree it did.”

The board had previously voted to move proposed bylaw changes from the warrant for the recent annual town meeting to the traditional fall town meeting, likely to take place in October.

Hogan and fellow Secret Lake Road resident Lori Kay have been among those pushing for a moratorium until zoning regulations are put in place that allow the town to set stricter conditions governing solar arrays than those currently in place. Had the board not voted to call a special town meeting to specifically address the moratorium, Hogan and Kay were ready to mount a petition to gather the 200 or so signatures needed for citizens to call for a special town meeting.

Hogan said the vote by the board frees moratorium backers to organize support for the proposal rather than putting their energy into gathering signatures.

“We’re going to be dealing with all the people here around Secret Lake,” said Hogan. “We’re going to talk to them about what this means and what’s happening in town so that they’re aware. Once the town calls for the town meeting then we’ll do public education to talk about the reasons why the moratorium should be passed. It’s not guaranteed. We need to make sure that something gets passed.”

Kay said some locals have expressed skepticism regarding the moratorium.

“Some people here, their attitude is that people should be able to do whatever they want with their property,” said Kay. “They say they’d rather have a solar array than a housing development on the other side of the lake.”

Hogan and Kay became involved when plans were unveiled for two solar arrays that would require the clear-cutting of 94 acres of forest land from Lyons Hill Road to within 40 feet of the Secret Lake shoreline.

Asked if they were more concerned with the arrays’ impact on the neighborhood’s aesthetics or on property values, Kay said, “I think property values and aesthetics are combined. If you lose the aesthetics, you lose the property values.”

Hogan, who bought his property on the lake last October, said he was unaware of plans for the solar arrays before making his purchase.

“If I had known I might be looking at a solar array across the lake instead of the forest,” he said, “you can be sure I wouldn’t have made the offer I made on this property. My real estate agent is from Millbury and knew nothing about those plans.”

Before purchasing her property, said Kay, “I was told this whole thing was a tree farm and would never be developed.”

“Until we started lobbying this issue,” said Hogan, “I don’t think the Board of Selectmen had the faintest idea of what was going on.”

The pair also expressed concern about the wildlife that call the property home and, added Hogan, “The other thing that’s very problematic, in addition to the aesthetics and property values, is the degradation of the lake caused by runoff.”

Both Hogan and Kay emphasize they are not anti-solar; they just want to ensure the town has more controls in place governing where and how the arrays can be constructed.

“What I’m really hoping for,” said Kay, “is that we end up having a model of how you should do this. Because, I’m not anti-solar by any stretch.”

“I think, I hope,” added Hogan, “we’ll end up with regulations addressing aesthetics where the town can say, ‘You can site these things, but they have to be sited with sensitivity to the abutters.”

While the Select Board’s decision to call a special town meeting to consider a moratorium was unanimous, a date for the meeting has yet to be determined.

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