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Eyed wind project in Cheshire caught up in red tape

CHESHIRE – The town’s only current shot at a wind development remains tangled in dealings with various state agencies, according to town officials.

Francis Waterman of the town Water Department wants to explore the possibility of a wind development on a 440-acre swath of town-owned land located off West Mountain Road with a feasibility study, but the state’s Article 97 conservation restriction allegedly stands in the way.

However, Waterman thinks the restriction only covers state-owned lands, not municipal.

“There’s a way to resolve the issue, and I think we will, it’s just a matter of motivating everybody to get to that point,” Waterman said Thursday.

Despite requests to this point for specificity from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) from advocates of the study, Waterman said, “part of our issue is that nobody’s really come forward to tell us ‘This is your problem.’ ”

He said communications have been “frustrating” and that those involved seek “some body to help us.”

However, Waterman may have got this at a Selectmen’s meeting last Tuesday. He used the opportunity to recruit town counsel Edmund St. John III to look into the matter, and send a letter to DCR stating his findings if Article 97 in fact doesn’t apply to the land in question.

DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port provided some clarity on Article 97 Thursday, calling it a “protection of environmental lands” such as watersheds.

“What it really does is if those lands were originally purchased from another entity for watershed protection, then [officials] would have to go to the Legislature to change the land [classification] before it can be used [for a project].”

This could prove problematic to the potential wind project’s supporters because the land was indeed a former town reservoir, bought by the town in parcels from private individuals during the 1970s. The entire property is currently deeded to the town.

But, most residents being well-users, the property is no longer a necessary backup water source, and Waterman described his proposal as a “good reuse” of the land to “keep the town viable in the future.”

For his part, St. John plans to dig through various deeds of the property, some dating as far back as the 1800s.

“What I need to know and de termine is whether the [deed] language [indicates that] it was bought for that purpose,” he said Thursday. “The property emanantes from a deed that come from a series of individuals many, many years ago, when that sort of thing wasn’t [as prevalent] in people’s minds.”

St. John did add, though, that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if watershed protection language was included, and said he’d not speak to the issue until he possessed all the facts.

Waterman believes, with affirmation from Tighe and Bond consulting engineers, that the site could be prime for wind developments.

He also said Massachusetts Clean Energy Center has offered financial assistance to help pay for the cost of a study, which could be completed within a year, but first the possible restrictions must be addressed.

“We’ve been working on this for four or five years now, and one thing we won’t do is give up,” Waterman said.