Conservation Commission ruling puts hold on residents’ forest cutting plan

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Solar farm behind Alexander Road
The Chircos were looking to cut down trees in a parcel next to their existing solar array, part of which can be seen above. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

At Tuesday night’s Conservation Commission meeting, the commission unanimously ruled that a Lumber Street couple who had two forestry cutting plans approved by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation could not remove trees to access one of the desired parcels of land without an approved notice of intent, thus putting the project on hold.

Benedict and Amy Chirco, who already have a solar array on their property, expressed a desire to cut down trees in two adjoining parcels of land that they own, despite the existence of wetlands there. They filed their forestry cutting plans with the DCR, and the approvals provided exemptions to the Wetlands Protection Act, thus limiting the town’s ability to control the cutting.

However, in order to access one of the parcels, the Chircos indicated they first would need to cut down trees in the wetlands buffer zone on an adjoining parcel that was previously permitted for the solar array, outside a permanent fence. The order of conditions for the parcel with the solar array states that the fence constitutes “the boundary of a permanent area of no disturbance.” So the Chircos requested clarification as to whether the DCR approval would grant them the right to proceed.

“There’s an exemption under the state act and the town’s bylaw subject to harvesting trees under a forest cutting plan,” explained conservation administrator Don MacAdam. “The question is, is that exemption overridden or null and void due to the ongoing conditions under the certificate of compliance on this particular parcel [with the existing solar array].”

The Chircos’ first forestry cutting plan, filed and approved in 2017, refers to a parcel in the southeast section of their property. The second, filed this past August and approved in September, is for a parcel in the northeast corner. The second parcel is the one that would require cutting of trees in the adjoining parcel’s buffer zone.

With the denial, the Chircos would require the approval of a notice of intent for tree clearing in the adjoining parcel, although the commission made it clear that it was likely that it would not be approved.

Asked if he had another option to access the approved parcel, Benedict Chirco told the commission he does not.

“I guess I don’t really have an answer how I would access that at this point,” he said just before the vote was taken. “I don’t own any other way out of there. So I’m not sure exactly what would happen.”

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