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Maffei looks to reduce solar project

If the project goes through in full, access to the woods behind Norfolk Aggie will be severely restricted.

By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter

As it increasingly looks like Norfolk County is planning to go ahead with its proposed solar panels project, various citizens are trying to stop it. Among other efforts, the Walpole Preservation Alliance (WPA) has created signs that say “save the Aggie Woods” and “save scenic North St.” They're also getting behind Heather Hamilton, a candidate for Norfolk County commissioner who is seemingly against the project, noting on Facebook that while the commissioners did nothing illegal, they only discussed the project during executive sessions, which shielded it from public view. Other town residents have threatened lawsuits, while some have attempted to go to higher state agencies to have the project blocked.

Glenn Maffei, on the other hand, is attempting to make the county what he believes is a much more reasonable offer: take the land on North Street, just leave the woods behind the Aggie alone. While he noted his only negotiating leverage is essentially that in dealing with the county commissioners he is dealing with elected officials that must adhere to the will of the people, his rationale is simple: losing the woods behind Norfolk Aggie would be devastating to Walpole, and they represent only a small part of the solar panel project.

Some of the fields behind Norfolk Aggie provide a backdrop for the hiking areas.

“Behind the Aggie is only about twenty percent of the entire project,” he explained. “My goal is to talk to the commissioners of Norfolk County and get them to consider only moving forward with the solar panels up on North Street, which would be eighty percent of the project, and to shelve the Norfolk Aggie portion because that portion includes acres and acres of well-traveled, well maintained and really important woods to the town of Walpole. There are a lot of great trails around here, about five miles of trails, and we really want to protect them. If the project behind the Aggie goes forward it is going to be primarily where the woods and the forests are, and it’s going to destroy them.”

On Thursday, Maffei led me on a tour of the woods behind Norfolk Aggie, pointing out the vast swaths of trees that would be brought down to make way for the panels. He noted that in Walpole Trails’ 2020 Open Space and Recreation Plan, protecting forests is “vital to maintaining the integrity of our open space in Walpole, and if we’re tearing down these forests we’re heading in the wrong direction.”

The trails were covered in fallen leaves, making for a very scenic hike.

While the forests are marked with ribbons and markers, likely indicating where the forests would be cleared, Maffei says the commissioners have been willing to listen to him, which at the very least is a good sign.

I noted that if it were my project and groups were threatening me with lawsuits to stop it, I would clear-cut the forest on day one to give them no time to do so. Maffei indicated it didn’t seem likely they were going to use a similar tactic.

The forests were already marked with pink ribbons, likely indicating where the forests will be cleared.

“I’m getting a positive response in the sense that they’re willing to listen, which is encouraging that they’re not just saying they’re going to shove the entire project down your throat. They’re willing to talk, they’re willing to consider the possibility of moving forward with some of the project but not its entirety. I would say I’m encouraged by the dialogue.”

While Maffei is working very hard on saving the woods behind the Aggie, he has opposition among those who are dead-set on the North Street project being halted as well, and who could see him as the Neville Chamberlain of the solar panel project. For his part, Maffei believes it is simply a pragmatic decision to separate the two projects, and acknowledges the town gets more usage out of one site than the other.

“The fact that North Street is more of an impeded view is concerning to some residents in that area, and I understand why. But here you could have a stroller, a mountain bike, you could walk alone or walk with your friends, you could experience this beautiful field then go into the woods and experience the autumn and the spring. You could cross-country ski in the winter. This is a really important part of Walpole, behind the Aggie, so I do think there’s something to be said about differentiating the two projects.”

Maffei noted that his children play on this tire swing, about halfway down the trail.

Above all else, Maffei’s belief is anchored in the idea that his offer is so reasonable, it’s hard to see why the county would shoot it down.

“I don’t feel like I’m being unreasonable. I feel like the ask, a twenty percent reduction in the size of the project, maybe could be made up elsewhere. Maybe with rooftop panels. It’s a big county, so maybe there’s some place in another town in Norfolk County that could have some solar panels, so it doesn’t all happen in Walpole. I’m willing to accept a big chunk of the project, just not the part that tears down acres and acres of woods. If we start cutting back ten acres here and ten acres there, we’re going in the wrong direction. I really think if you take a forest with 130-foot-tall pines - these aren’t saplings, this is an established woodland - if you take this forest and remove it from our inventory of open space, that’s a real loss for Walpole.”

With the potential solar panel project on the horizon and the town's leverage limited, it appears as though Walpole may have to take a loss as it pertains to open space. Glenn Maffei's position is that it doesn’t have to end up a catastrophic loss.

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