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Conservation Commission OKs Art Installation, Charging Stations at MoCA
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
12:36PM / Saturday, February 27, 2021
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Mass MoCA will place 11 concrete cylinders in an arc east of Joe's Field.


An artist's rendering of what the concrete tubes will look like. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Conservation Commission on Tuesday approved an art installation of 11 concrete cylinders within the 200-foot buffer zone of the river at Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 
 
The 10-foot diameter precast tubs will be arranged in an arc between Buildings 19 and 25, just east of Joe's Field, and are designed to resonant with sound or music. They're the creation of artist Taryn Simon, whose "A Cold Hole and Assembled Audience" made a splash at the museum in 2018. 
 
The commission's concern dealt not with the art but the construction on land near the Hoosic River. Brad Dilger, project manager at Mass MoCA, said the installation would be located on a grassy site where a previous Sprague Electric building had been removed. 
 
"That was torn down and filled back in so we would be disturbing only the soil necessary for this installation," he said, which is estimated at about 1,875 square feet. "Everything will be replanted with grass, after construction
is finished. And for the square footage we are disturbing, we would we are applying some of the 'bank's' square footage from our previous meetings."
 
Dilger was referring to the construction of the Marshall Street park last year. The museum removed the parking lot and was allowed to "bank" the new permeable area against work on the museum campus proper, which includes the new James Turrell exhibit approved last year in the water tank off the festival field. 
 
Jeff Randall of Hill Engineering said the installation would be about 105 feet from the river located in the flood chute behind Building 18. 
 
The commission gave the OK for the project with regular order of conditions for the Wetlands Protection Act but also asked about using the "bank" for another project it had just approved for Mass MoCA -- the installation of four electric vehicle charging stations also in the buffer zone. 
 
The charging stations would be placed on a concrete pad 2 feet wide, about 60 feet long, and 6 inches thick, that was on grade. A grassy area would be lifted to install the piping conduit for the electrical service. The representative for Apex Solar Power of Queensbury, N.Y., said he had not been in contact with the museum or Hill Engineers about using the bank to trade off the footprint. 
 
"I'll use the term de minimis impact to the riverfront, de minimis impact wetlands," said Commissioner Andrew Kawczak, sitting as chairman. "Obviously, it's the flood control chute, I understand that, but we don't have absolute liberty to dismiss the requirements of the Wetlands Protection Act, relative to construction activities that are 10 feet away from the defined edge of the river."
 
Dilger, during the art installation hearing, said he was only generally aware of the charger project but didn't see an issue in using the bank to offset it. 
 
"It's all on campus, it's all part of the same general project of improving the site. So I don't see any reason why we wouldn't," he said, adding they were trying to minimize as much as possible the soil disturbance for both the Simon and Turrell installations. 
 
The charging stations had been given a negative determination and allowed under the Wetlands Protection Act, with Commissioner Elena Traistor noting the existing development, degradation of the riverfront area where the project is proposed.
 
Randall said Hill and the museum were working to close out some orders of condition dating back to 2002. 
 
"I looked back at some of them, and you know how those old orders were, it didn't really even say what the project was so I guess we'll have to try to track down some of the paperwork and figure out what they
were actually doing under those old orders," he said. "They probably predate me and they probably predate Brad. But we can address those things going forward."
 
Kawczak said it made sense to clean them up now. "These things are just dangling out there and the more time that goes by, the more difficult it is to reassemble the paperwork," he said. 
 
Kawczak had stepped in to lead the hearing because Chairman Jason Moran recused him because of his appointment to the Mass MoCA Commission. He said he was awaiting an opinion from the Ethics Commission on whether he could hear applications from the museum. Both commissions are city boards and appointed by the mayor; neither has carries any monetary benefit. 
 
He also recused himself on hearing for a request for determination of applicability by David Bond to blow snow on his property at 1190 South State St. using the Hoosic River. He said he had a "past personal and business relationship" with Bond. Bond, however, withdrew his application after a conversation that also touched on whether a permit would be needed from the state Department of Environmental Protection and if permitting needed to be amended because of the expansion in area use at the site, among other things. 
 
The land is being used for both motocross and snowmobile races. 
 
"You have some issues on site. More summertime issues than wintertime issues, but you definitely have issues on site," said Kawczak. "We have a charter of protecting the wetlands and in some cases directing you to natural heritage program to protect the rare species that we take very seriously."
 
The commission also held a hearing on a notice of intent by Tighe & Bond on behalf of Massachusetts Electric Co.
for activities associated with the construction of a two-mile permanent gravel access road along an electrical line to Pole 30. The line dates to the 1950s to provide additional service to North Adams and Adams, but an emergency repair certificate was issued last August after it was damaged by Tropical Storm Isaias. 
 
Katy Wilkins of Tighe & Bond said the most feasible access was through the gravel bank off Old Columbia Street at the city line. 
 
"Very steep terrain, very rocky. There weren't any existing access roads or access roads that the equipment could go on," she said, other than some ATV trails. "They tried a few different options to figure out the best way to get there. And it was deemed that they really needed to construct a road so they built a gravel access road about 10 feet wide. And that allowed the equipment to get to the top of the mountain, or to the hills, and replace the structure get back down."
 
Mass Electric wants to keep that road permanent in case it needs to get back up the structure. Commissioners questioned engineering for stream crossings and concerns that putting in a road would encourage more off-road vehicles. 
 
Wilkins acknowledged that creating roads does open up areas to all kinds of recreational traffic, including people walking their dogs. "That's something that the power utilities try to manage as best as they can, but they're not out there all the time," she said, but added that in this case there were a number of access areas to the wooded property. "People were going in there before we put a road there."
 
The commissioners supported the notice of intent with conditions to address the three stream crossings they thought were not up standard and to address the route through the wetlands area with construction to be completed on or before Dec. 31.

 

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