EASTHAMPTON – Holyoke city officials are taking exception to claims by Easthampton’s mayor that they failed to keep the neighboring city abreast of developments related to Holyoke Gas & Electric’s newly built communications tower and wind turbine plans on the Mount Tom ridge.
In a statement Thursday, Holyoke City Treasurer Jon Lumbra wrote that Tautznik’s assertion that Holyoke officials have “made a mess” of the mountain and failed to communicate about the municipally owned utility’s activities on the range were baseless.
“For Mayor Tautznik to suggest that we were less than forthcoming is simply not true,” Lumbra wrote. “There is not one iota of information about this project that has not received enormous public scrutiny.”
Lumbra said he was writing on behalf of Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, who was out of town on city business.
But in a June 1 email reviewed by Gazette, there is evidence to suggest that Tautznik’s statements have merit. In that email from Holyoke Gas & Electric Manager James Lavelle to Tautznik, Lavelle apologized to the mayor for “not being more proactive with communications on the tower construction.”
“I know I indicated to you that we’d be willing to take input from you or your designee on any activity as it relates to the wind project development, but to date, even our own input seems to be ignored,” Lavelle wrote to the mayor in that email. “It seems that by the time we get through all of the permitting hurdles, there really is no room for discretionary input if we are going to meet the technical requirements for the project.”
The email to Tautznik came one day before the Gazette published a series of stories that detailed the company’s activities on the mountain range, which included construction of a 190-foot lattice tower that went up in May. The tower was built to have communications equipment attached and to collect wind data for Holyoke Gas & Electric’s plans to install five, nearly 500-foot wind turbines along the range. The Federal Aviation Administration rejected those plans, finding that the wind turbines would represent a hazard to the national airspace.
As for permitting for the tower, which the Holyoke City Council approved after rewriting the city’s zoning, that process “involved more public meetings, and more scrutiny than those of the other dozens of towers already existing on the site,” Lumbra wrote.
Lavelle had met with Tautznik in 2009 to discuss HG&E’s plans and agreed to communicate with the mayor regarding the project.
“As the mayor said, the mountain defines the town” of Easthampton, Lavelle told the Gazette in the wake of that discussion.
For his part, Tautznik claims the city has not been kept up to date on the company’s plans since that time. Earlier this week, he said he had “lost all trust in Holyoke officials on this project.”
“They said they were going to keep us abreast of the project status and take input on it,” Tautznik said in an email Thursday to the Gazette. “I trusted them at their word.”
Tautznik declined to comment further, saying he didn’t want to argue over the matter with Holyoke officials in a newspaper.
In his statement Thursday, Lumbra said any activity that has been conducted on the mountain occurred only after rigorous review and approval by local and state authorities. HG&E’s ownership of the site has led to the establishment of tighter controls and protection of resources on the site, which include rare plant and animal species. As part of its permitting, the utility had to relocate rare timber rattlesnakes to a Rhode Island zoo, where they will be bred and re-released for tracking along the mountain range.
“In fact, the state has determined that the construction of the tower has resulted in a net benefit from a resource management standpoint,” Lumbra wrote. “So the facts clearly contradict Mr. Tautznik’s claims.”
Holyoke Gas & Electric, which acquired 270 acres along the range for $1.9 million in 2009, is now in talks with the state Department of Conservation and Recreation about a potential state purchase of the property, the majority of which was acquired for conservation.
In recent months, Lavelle has said HG&E has not given up on generating wind power on the mountain, though the company has not submitted a new configuration of wind turbines to the Federal Aviation Administration since the agency rejected its plans.
In his email to Tautznik, Lavelle expressed frustration with the process and wrote that “we have quite a bit of work to do before we have any sense if there will be any wind turbines on the mountain.”
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