Residents decry loss of trails in Gold property solar proposal

Residents decry loss of trails in Gold property solar proposal

A trail map submitted with the project proposal shows the existing trails on the Gold family property in yellow. Proposed solar panels are shown in white, while the areas that would be reserved for the town are to the north and east of the project.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the Planning Board were undecided last week after residents and board members raised concerns that a project pitched as a way to return conservation land to the town could have the opposite effect.

On Thursday, May 21, representatives of the Gold family and Anthony DelVicario, a Rhode Island-based solar developer, appeared before a virtual Planning Board to discuss their plans to build a nine-megawatt alernating current solar farm on the Gold family property off Mattity Road. The 128-acre property has been targeted for solar development since last spring, when owner David Gold turned down an $800,000 offer from the town to purchase the property.

As part of the proposal, the developer has offered to transfer 56 acres of land to the town immediately and another 32 acres after the expected 35-year lifespan of the project. The project has been pitched as an opportunity for the town to acquire conservation land in an area that has long been the subject of a potential open space purchase.

Over the past several weeks, Gold has opened up the property to visitors, inviting residents to walk the trails on the old pig farm and railroad thruway. John Mancini, an attorney for the project, told board members the invitation served two purposes, both to offer residents an outdoor space to walk during the COVID-19 crisis and to give them “a sense of the beauty” of the property now being offered to the town.

Residents and board members at last Thursday’s meeting, however, pointed out that many of the trails they’ve come to enjoy would be eliminated by the proposed development. Instead, the land earmarked for the town under various proposals includes a large portion of wetlands on the northern and eastern sides of the property and would require the creation of new trails, something project representatives said would be detailed at a later date.

“It’s great to say a portion of this is going to be publicly accessible, but we don’t know what the actual plan is,” said Chris Simpkins, a neighbor who’s visited the property in recent weeks. “We keep hearing that the details are going to be worked out later, but those details matter to us now.”

Simpkins thanked Gold for opening the property and said he and his family have enjoyed walking the trails, but added he hopes other residents realize what’s being lost.

Board Chairman Gary Palardy also raised questions about recreational access, pointing out that with a majority of the trails gone, other trails would be accessible only by Tarkiln Pond.

“Mr. Gold has been very generous in inviting people of the town to walk the trails and you just watch on Facebook lots and lots of people have been enjoying it, but if that just goes away, it’s sort of a tease,” he said.


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Project representatives said their eventual plan is to create new paths around the solar panels to allow residents to access additional trails on the north side of the property. The conservation land would also include a former railroad bed on the property that could be used as a potential bike path or equestrian trail.

Board members also asked about a conservation easement that was established in the 1990s in an area now targeted for solar panels. As part of the project, the company is asking to remove the original conservation easement and replace it with the larger, 56-acre protected area to the east and north. Megan Staples, an alternate member of the Planning Board, asked what kind of tax implications the transfer could have for the town, pointing out the new area is already largely protected from development by its wetlands status.

The property contains several historical features, including two Native American sites, the ruins of a piggery, a former railroad station and four cemeteries, all of which are outside the boundaries of the solar project.

With many questions remaining about the historic and recreational status of the property, as well as the legal details of how the conservation land would be conveyed to the town, board members opted to postpone a decision on the application until July 2. At that time, they plan to hold another hearing on the project. The project also requires approval by the Zoning Board.

Comments

Why can't No. Smithfield just get their poop in a group and procure a deal for this property. Too nice of a piece to let slip into the decays of solar arrays.

Time is the only thing that is slipping away for this great public opportunity. Too bad.

My wife Marcia and I decided , for the 1st time in 40+ years, to open the +/- 6 miles of trails through the Gold Forest to the Townsfolk of North Smithfield through an announcement on Engage North Smithfield's website page as a respite for those needing to Forest Basthe and enjoy Nature- hiking, walking and getting outside for break during the Coronaviru horror that has gripped the world.
We will most likely expand the time as the crisis continues to plague our country, state and town.

I hope Townsfolk will appreciate the park/forest - perhaps wondering why the opportunity to own the land (+/- 140 acres) has been allowed to slip through the "fingers" of Town Councillors and Administrators back to the days of a fully executed P&S yanked away by an incoming Town Administrator
( Paulette Hamilton) from the then Town Administrator Bob Lowe and Town Council President Linda Thibeault. The Town spent and lost approximately $125.000. in doing so in the form of a non-refundable deposit and their expenses- minus over a year's time/labor.

However, most importantly for the here-and-now is the Townfolk's ability to appreciate the respite - who are feeling bored and isolated.

The Townsfolk in 2007 voted and passed a bond to spend 3 million dollars for conservation/open space only to fall on the deaf ears of the present and recentpast Town Administrators Paulette Hamilton and Gary Evowski.
The Town , Conservation Council , Town Council President and Town Council member, approached the Gold's (again) in the latest 12 year saga go-round with a negotiated offer of $1.95 million in order for the Town to apply for a $400,000. DEM Grant to help with the purchase. The DEM Grant stated the price in the application presented by the Town Planner Tom Kravitz.
The Gold's agreed with the $800,000. discounted price from the $2.7 Million agreed to in 2008 then with a signed P&S Agreement and $50,000. non-refundable deposit. The Gold's authorized the Town to proceed.
Recently the $400,000. DEM Grant money was lost, more expenses logged in (appraisal, legal, and time) and lost when it all began again with the Town Conservation President Paul Soares and Council member Paul Zwolensky, the then Town Council President John Beauregard
asked permission to visit our home to ask my wife and I if they, representing the Town of North Smithfield, could apply for the highly coveted DEM Grant at a much reduced price from $2.7 million to $1.95 million dollars...representing a $750,000. discount from recession times of 2008. Marcia and I agreed they could press forward...our mistake.

Tom Kravitz, Town Planner, then applied stating the price of $1.95 million in the application- you can obtain a copy from Tom K. ( it is a matter of record at DEM also).
The competitive DEM Grant was awarded the Town - the DEM rating the Gold property very highly. The Town Council then appropriated funds for an appraisal- once completed they refused to disclose the outcome of the appraisal to the Townspeople...The appraisal amount remains a "secret". An appraisal in 2008 paid for by the Town valued the property at $1.95 Mil...without the value of 1.3 Million Cubic Yards of gravel (+/- $4 Million Dollars).
The Town Administrator and Town Council President, Paul Vadenais, then met in private with Mr. Gold to offer $400,000. of Town funds towards the purchase - $1.550. Million Dollars LESS than previously agreed ! The Town walked away from another DEM Grant, this time $400,000. !
Following the coveted award from DEM and an appraisal not released to the Townsfolk for some reason unknown to all including the then sitting Town Conservation Committee ( ! ) , the matter went silent until last June when the DEM Grant was about to expire-having been on the table for more than a year...The now sitting Town Administrator and Town Council President asked me to a privately held "meeting" to offer me with a P&S agreement in-hand a paltry sum of $400,000. of the Town's money to purchase the land. Keep in mind that the Townsfolk voted in favor of spending $3 million of their money which has largely been ignored. Democracy at work ?
I walked out of the meeting with yet another broken word by Town "leaders"... Marcia and I were disappointed that the Townsfolk would be deprived of having a forest, park and open space to enjoy in perpetuity.
We are in our 70's and were ready to see our dream realized.
...a long story about which I could write a book.

Previously some months prior I was also invited to a closed Town Council meeting( ( apparently legal in N Smithfield) at which no member, save Councilman Zwolensky, had any clue/idea about the value of conservation, forest bathing or open space/park/forest for their Town.
The Town Council members and Town Administrator had notset foot on the Gold Forest property ! ...
The President of the Conservation Council, Paul Soares, was told he was not welcome at the closed door meeting...!
No reasonable conversation ensued during the meeting - all were sadly and ill prepared.

The Conservation Committee was horrifically "dismissed" in my opinion without cause but with personal vengeance...a very sad day for all Townsfolk this year. And , yes, issues were connected.

I am exhausted and saddened with the "story".

At this moment there is a proposal before the Planning Committee and Tom Kravitz as well as the town by a local RI solar company to gift the town a large portion of the Gold Forest immediately upon acceptance of their proposal - a matter of record - and following their use for solar energy production of a smaller portion of land off the beaten path will gift the balance to the town to complete the forest for all to enjoy in perpetuity.
The offer of the Gold Forest/Park donation in exchange remains under consideration and will be a matter now up for discussion by Planning, Conservation & Zoning. Stay tuned for a chance to gain a park and forest...otherwise lost to small town politics.

Last weekend to enjoy the Gold Forest / Park...The State of RI is open now and the Gold Family is proud to have been of help, respite to those who took part in family Forest Bathing !

Anybody know if ALL planning board members have walked the Gold Park / Forest Trails ? The opportunity is in their hands to finally gain Town ownership. The chance may never come around again...

I invite the person(s) who claim there are 2 additional historical cemeteries located with the Gold Forest/Park to step forward and show me. The Public Archaeological Lab who conducted a major study of the Gold Forest in the 1990's found no such cemetery(ies)....there is 1 historical cemetery on the property which was "saved"by the Gold Family after the Town, State of RI ,RI and Town Historical Societies all advised me they had no money nor labor to assist in restoration...The Gold Family utilized its own money to restore and have a proper sign installed. The cemetery has been properly restored and historically documented for the dignity of all.

I invite the person(s) who claim there is/are American Indian site(s) of significance to step forward and show me the alleged site(s)...there are none. The Public Archaeological Lab, who conducted a major study of the Gold Forest in the 1990's ,found no such site(s).

The only physically historical site, other than the historical cemetery, within the Gold Forest/Park is the Augustus E Field Piggery- uncovered and preserved at great expense by the Gold Family over a period of 40 years and recently enjoyed by invited Townsfolk. It's history is well documented in the PAL book. NONE of the historical sites will be impacted in any way, shape nor form by the proposal in front of the Planning Board...only to be enjoyed, studied and owned by the Townspeople in perpetuity.

My understanding is that the historic Augustus E Field Piggery walls, foundations bridge and stone walls and stream lead into a large clear pasture W/ historic cemetery and trail to a small park above the pasture with fabulous rock formations - “Marilyn’s Mount” is the trail head- and with connecting/continuing trails from the pasture and over a flat historic stone walkway onto trails that take you all the way to Tarkiln Resevoir for picnics and scenic Forest Bathing for Townsfolk to enjoy will all be a part of the gift from day one...also to be included is Lake Bel Air and RR bed property that runs from the Lake across Route 7 and extends for a couple of miles to end(+/- 5 Ac)....with Lake Bel Air property's scenic beauty, picnic area, bass fishing along with trails that lead to Route 7 and across Route 7 for hiking/biking with 2-RR Beds add another 15 acres or so to the initial donation.The solar company will best be able to "draw the picture" at the scheduled July 2 online meeting that importantly gifts the balance of the Gold Forest following their intended use to the Town completing the entire forest for future generations. Allowing this opportunity to slip away will be another mistake.

The Gold Family has sole possession and rights of ownership to the The Public Archaeological Lab significant study and the resulting book...initiated and paid for by the Gold Family.

You say you and your wife are in your 70's ! Give it up already !!!!!!! we as a Town CANNOT afford your MULI-GAZZILLON deal ! just give it a rest already !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!