SALISBURY — The six-megawatt solar farm planned for about 40 acres of land off Rabbit Road was thought to be an exciting, environmentally friendly project by many, offering enough green energy to the local grid to displace a half a million gallons of oil.
But when True North Energy owner Jim Vaughn III began construction of the farm this month, cutting down all the trees on the forested wetlands there, dozens of people complained to Salisbury officials as well as The Daily News. They were concerned about what they considered ugly clear-cutting on the site and its impact on the area's appearance and local wildlife, especially birds.
According to Salisbury Conservation Commission Chairwoman Sheila Albertelli, the environmental benefits offered by Vaughn's solar farm outweigh the negative impact of cutting down the trees needed to build it. Albertelli told selectmen Monday night that the commission has received complaints. But commissioners did a thorough review of the plan, she said, and its environmental scientists said removing the trees will not have a significant negative environmental impact because the site simply transitioned from a "wooded wetlands to a shrubbed wetlands," she said.
In addition, Vaughn will be relandscaping the acreage, said Salisbury Planning Director Lisa Pearson. The town has an approved Planning Board and Conservation Commission plan for the solar farm with a landscaping component on it that requires Vaughn to undertake some replanting on the site, Pearson said.
"We've also had calls with complaints that the (tree cutting) has damaged the (nearby) rail trail," Pearson said. "In regard to the rail trail, he's responsible for fixing whatever happens. He's cleaned it up once and he's going to go back again."
In May, Salisbury Town Meeting gave Vaughn's project the OK, approving an amendment to the town's regulations allowing a solar farm in the area's building zone. Vaughn said he wanted to build and operate a six-megawatt solar energy facility on 43 acres of a 54-acre site he owns off Rabbit Road. It's behind Vaughn Manufacturing, the water heater company he once owned but has since sold. With the positive vote, Town Meeting permitted Vaughn's land — previously approved as an industrial park — to be included within Salisbury's new zoning bylaw for solar photovoltaic systems.