Devens Enterprise Commission Annual Report showcases sustainability initiatives

Hydroponic lettuce, renewable energy, and public transportation are three initiatives showcased in the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC) Annual Report. DEC Land-Use Administrator and Director Peter Lowitt presented the report to the Harvard Select Board at its February 26 meeting.

Several of the 2018 building projects focus on energy efficiency and sustainability. When interviewed by the Harvard Press, Lowitt said, “Our mission is to redevelop Devens as a model of sustainability.”

Little Leaf Farms is a 13-acre greenhouse that uses hydroponics to grow lettuce. The locally grown lettuce makes its way to nearby grocery stores without the need for interstate transportation chains. And Little Leaf collects 80 percent of its irrigation water from a rainwater harvesting basin. According to Lowitt, “You can recognize the lettuce in the grocery store; it’s so fresh that its leaves are partially curled.”

A warehouse expansion at 66-68 Saratoga Boulevard includes a doubling in size of the 1.75 megawatt solar photovoltaic system already in place on the existing building. The warehouse services a recently expanded nearby rail line, and, according to Lowitt, “Every railcar in use takes four trucks off the road.” In addition, the owners of the building at 112 Barnum Road installed a solar panel system, generating another 2.75 megawatts of sustainable power.

The DEC, MassDevelopment, Ayer, and Shirley have partnered to provide public transportation. This shuttle service connects Devens businesses, adjacent towns, and nearby train stations. Over the course of 2018, the new program’s ridership has grown to 120 weekly riders.

Devens has also made progress toward its permanent land protection goals, ending 2018 with more than 1,400 acres protected. The 2008-2013 reuse plan calls for at least 1,446 acres of permanently protected land (approximately 33 percent of Devens), meaning that Devens is nearing its goal.

The Devens Eco-Efficiency Center, open since 2008, expanded its operations in 2018. It added educational forums for professionals with environmental, health, and safety responsibilities, which drew representatives from 38 nearby businesses. Over the course of 2018, the continued operation of the Great Exchange waste-rescue program saved more than 39 tons of would-be garbage for productive reuse. According to Lowitt, this program “turns trash into treasure.”

In 2018, Devens won a 4-STAR sustainability rating by the STAR Community Rating System, making it one of 26 communities nationwide to do so. The US Green Building Council awarded Devens a “LEED for Cities and Communities” designation, signifying its sustainability success.

Along with neighboring towns, including Harvard, Devens received a state grant: Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness for Climate Change Planning. The DEC used these funds to hire experts from VHB Inc. to provide a report on how to prepare for future climate conditions and will use the report to inform future decision making.

Devens has also begun tracking emissions as part of a Greenhouse Gas Inventory, with the goal of using this data baseline to set future targets for reduction. In 2019 the DEC aims to continue support for these current projects as well as to seek new opportunities to set and meet sustainability goals.

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