DCR vows to repair scars left by Lenox Mountain project
RICHMOND — In the wake of a recent maintenance project on Lenox Mountain, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation is expected to return to remediate damage done on the western slope.
To the dismay of nearby residents and Mass Audubon, a landowner on the right-of-way, the project transformed a wooded footpath into a road providing access for now-buried electrical lines to communications equipment on the summit.
"It's a mess," said town Select Board Chairman Alan Hanson during a recent meeting. Selectman Roger Manzolini expressed irritation that town officials had not been notified in advance about the project.
The state's easement, which dates back to the 1940s, leads to a clearing surrounding the fire tower atop Lenox Mountain, where the communications equipment is sited.
At a July 9 meeting of about 20 concerned neighbors, several town officials, and a Mass Audubon representative, DCR staffer Martin Menke, an electrical engineer, explained that the work was done "in response to an emergency" after a tree fell on an electrical line, affecting several utility poles.
The electric service line serves state police radio repeater antennas, Berkshire County Sheriff and Ambulance radio equipment along with a leased cell site, according to DCR press secretary Olivia Dorrance.
"The electric line and utility poles were old and in a state of disrepair," she told The Eagle. "On occasion, the electric service line has failed requiring the use of generators until repairs are made. Due to drought conditions across much of the commonwealth and the possibility of falling high voltage electric service lines starting a forest fire, DCR determined the project was emergency maintenance."
Dorrance noted that to avert a possible forest fire or other event, the agency removed the utility poles on the upper slope and installed a new cable underground.
Restoration work sought by Mass Audubon is expected over the next few weeks.
"At this stage we are in communication with DCR to ensure that the ecological integrity of Lenox Mountain be restored and that future work involves landowner communication," said Stephen Hutchinson, Mass Audubon's coastal and western director of operations, via e-mail.
Dorrance acknowledged that the agency expects to return to the project site this summer "to complete punch-list items including regrading and the installation of a gate to discourage trespassing."
At the July 9 meeting, longtime View Drive resident Ruth Bass pointed out that "a project that took several weeks provided plenty of time to notify people, especially in this day of instant electronics."
Burial of new power lines to the summit continued for several weeks, according to Bass, and included prolonged, noisy jackhammering to excavate rock and ledge.
After the meeting, Hanson, Conservation Commission Chairman Ronald Veillette, DCR officials and a Mass Audubon representative hiked the mountain along with property owner and part-time resident Anthony Abate, who pushed for a remediation plan.
Portions of the affected land are owned by Bass, Abate and Mass Audubon. Bass, an Eagle columnist and former Sunday Editor, had gifted a portion of her land to Mass Audubon several years ago in honor of her late husband, Milton Bass.
View Drive resident Harley Keisch said the main impact of the DCR project was "the creation of a brand new road through the forest," mostly along the narrow pole-line easement.
Keisch told The Eagle that "isolated sections of the footpath survive but the remainder is buried or obliterated by the new road construction."
He stated that "forest was cleared, a road was carved, the existing pole line was taken down, a trench was dug, two conduits laid for the electrical line, and concrete poured over."
Keisch also pointed out that two communications lines were removed from the poles and were left lying on the side of the road.
"Many old poles, cut-down trees, brush, boulders and debris were simply shoved off to the side and left behind," he added, "and at least one intermittent stream was blocked."
Bass stated that "much of the mountain in both Richmond and Lenox is conserved or, as in the case of me and some of my neighbors, kept in woodland wild condition, home of all sorts of creatures."
"It was my late husband Milton's foresight that led us to keep adding pieces of Lenox Mountain to the 3 acres we originally owned on View Drive," Bass said. "Years before land conservation became serious in the Berkshires, he felt it was possible for the mountaintop to be developed despite the difficulty of access. So, newly married and new-house poor, we scraped together cash and added at least three parcels, giving us close to 40 acres."
"Milt would be appalled by the destruction of canopy, the construction of a road wide enough for a cement mixer and the destruction of ledge," she added.
Responding to complaints about lack of advance notice, the DCR spokesman stated that the agency reached out to the "View Drive Association" on two occasions in April and May to discuss the project scope, schedule and potential roadway activity.
But Bass noted that "few of us seemed to know" there was an active association representing the neighborhood. It turned out to have been a "loose association" attached to the community water supply serving a number of neighbors in the past. Any communications from the state about the project didn't reach the neighbors, she added.
Dorrance said the project included the installation of a new secondary power lines to the View Drive Association well pump and the removal and abatement of asbestos at one of the pole risers along the right of way.
"DCR staff contact information was shared with interested parties who inquired about the emergency maintenance project," she said. "On multiple occasions in May and June, DCR staff met with constituents to address their concerns, and walk the project site."
Nevertheless, neighbors remain aggrieved.
"The state ran roughshod over our mountain, on the list of Richmond's most valuable environmental assets," Bass said.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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