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CONCORD

Group may buy landfill near Walden Pond

The Walden Woods Project says the former landfill is important because of its proximity to Walden Pond. The Walden Woods Project says the former landfill is important because of its proximity to Walden Pond. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/file 2011)
By Jennifer Fenn Lefferts
Globe Correspondent / April 29, 2012
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The Walden Woods Project is offering the town of Concord $2.8 million to permanently protect nearly 35 acres of land at the former landfill, a location considered to be a key part of the ecosystem once studied by Henry David Thoreau.

The landfill is capped and has not been used for years but the town still uses the site for leaf composting and snow disposal. Town officials are also interested in putting a large-scale solar installation there to generate energy for the municipal light department.

The proposal, which calls for the Walden Woods Project to pay the town in exchange for a conservation restriction, was originally scheduled to go before voters at Town Meeting last week but was tabled.

Officials say the two sides need more time to answer questions such as whether the composting can be moved and how many solar panels Walden Woods will allow in the conservation restriction. The town would retain ownership of the land.

“It’s a delay, not the end of this effort,’’ said Kathi Anderson, executive director of the Lincoln-based Walden Woods Project. “We made great progress but we need more time.”

Jeffrey Wieand, a member of the Board of Selectmen, said it could be a great opportunity for Concord to generate income for future land purchases and to protect an important parcel of land.

“This kind of opportunity doesn’t exist all the time,’’ Wieand said. “The best use of the property is open space. It’s too bad we built a dump on it but now we have someone who will pay us to keep it open.’’

The Walden Woods Project is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving the land, literature, and legacy of Thoreau through conservation, education, research and advocacy.

The group was founded in 1990 by Eagles member Don Henley when land within Walden Woods was threatened by commercial development.

Anderson said the organization’s interest in the former landfill dates back to the early 1990s and is its “number one conservation priority’’ given its proximity to Walden Pond and the Thoreau cabin site.

“It’s a site that’s key in terms of conservation for us because of the role it played in Thoreau’s life,’’ Anderson said.

Thoreau used to walk the land, she said, which was also home to a body of water called Ripple Lake, and studied forest succession — a precursor to modern-day ecology.

“It was an area he frequented a lot as part of the Walden Woods ecosystem,’’ Anderson said. “If it’s not protected, who knows what will happen.”

Ultimately, Anderson said the organization’s goal is to link the landfill site to the Brister’s Hill path across Route 2 with a wildlife and pedestrian overpass.

“This has been a priority for our organization for 20 years now,’’ Anderson said. , adding: “We feel it’s very important to put the protections available to us in place sooner rather than later.’’

Anderson said the Walden Woods Project agreed to pay significantly more than the $1 million appraised value of the land because of its importance to Walden Pond.

She said the organization and the town started talking about 18 months ago but as they got closer to Town Meeting, it became clear that it was too soon for a formal vote.

Wieand said Walden Woods is willing to allow the town to continue operating municipal services there, such as storage for plowed snow and some solar panels, but questions have been raised about the composting site and how big a solar installation could be placed there.

“We tried to answer all the questions before Town Meeting but we didn’t quite make it,’’ Wieand said.

Town Manager Chris Whelan said Concord is interested in developing utility-scale solar power and is considering that site.

The town owns its electric department and currently buys wholesale power for all town businesses and homes.

The town’s Solar Study Committee identified the landfill property as the best place to locate a large-scale solar installation.

Whelan said the light board would like to see as much as 2 or 3 megawatts of power-generating capacity on the site but that would require panels on 15 to 20 acres, he said.

Walden Woods, however, would like to limit the solar use to 5 acres.

Anderson said the organization gave the town $131,000 to plant trees on the landfill after it closed and it doesn’t want to see those go away.

Wieand and Anderson said they will continue negotiations with the hope of bringing it to voters at a future Town Meeting.

“The selectmen remain committed to giving the town the option of selling this restriction,’’ Wieand said. “We just want the town to have all the information to make a good decision.’’

George Lewis, chairman of the town’s Natural Resources Commission, said the panel has not taken a position on the proposal.

He said the commission was set to discuss it but then was told it was being tabled. Lewis said the commission does have several questions such as the constraints for solar, the new location for composting, and the general benefits and drawbacks.

“We don’t know enough about it,’’ he said.

Jennifer Fenn Lefferts can be reached at jflefferts@yahoo.com

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