MONTAGUE — An old burn dump that is at least 25 years overdue for being environmentally contained is being capped and turned into a solar farm this year, thanks to a deal between the town and the Kearsarge Energy power company.
The solar farm will be an addition to an existing solar complex on adjoining properties, which are also operated by Kearsarge. Installation of the new part is expected to be finished by the end of the year, said Town Administrator Steve Ellis.
The burn dump is off Turnpike Road at the end of Sandy Lane, behind the Judd Wire building. It is not in use, but the town is obligated by the state Department of Environmental Protection to cap it.
“Capping” the dump — containing it according to environmental regulations — has been on the town’s to-do list for at least 25 years, town officials have said, but it’s been delayed several times.
Meanwhile, cost estimates for capping it have only increased. In 2004, it was estimated to cost about $260,000. The estimate town officials now refer to is $2.4 million.
“Two and a half million dollars is not extra money that we have,” Selectboard member Mike Nelson observed.
As it happens, the town leases surrounding properties in the same area to Kearsarge, which built a large solar farm there about two years ago.
In an agreement that the Selectboard finalized in May, Kearsarge will pay to cap the dump, and in exchange the town leases the land to the company for 25 years and waives practically the entire fee for the lease. (Town Planner Walter Ramsey mentioned that Kearsarge will still pay a nominal yearly fee of less than $1,000 to the town.) Kearsarge gets to expand its 6-megawatt facility into a 9-megawatt one, and the town avoids having to borrow money to solve the burn dump problem, Ellis explained.
“We need to get this done, and this is a way to do it,” said Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz.
In the same area is the Montague Recycling Center and Transfer Station, and about 40 acres of empty, undeveloped space. The town’s long-term economic development strategy acknowledges that, if the transfer station were ever moved somewhere else, the area would be ripe for industrial development, Ellis said. Capping the burn dump is a major step toward making the area viable for development, he said; but there are currently no plans to relocate the transfer station.
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