Editorial: In defense of old walls

Posted 12/19/19

Stone walls are part of our history, lasting reminders of these towns’ farming roots, and they deserve better protection by far than they are getting.

Old barns fall to storms, termites and …

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Editorial: In defense of old walls

Posted

Stone walls are part of our history, lasting reminders of these towns’ farming roots, and they deserve better protection by far than they are getting.

Old barns fall to storms, termites and fire, but old walls live on, for  centuries if we let them, lasting testimony to the colossal effort needed to wrest a living from these rocky soils.

Which is why it is disturbing to see them dismissed so casually at public meetings, their destruction justified as inconvenient obstacles to development and profit.

It has happened lately in both Tiverton and Westport where solar developers (at Wingover Farm in Tiverton, Brookwood Solar in Westport) have proposed wholesale demolition of walls estimated at 250 years old or more.

Stone walls for solar is an especially sad tradeoff since a solar farm lifespan is put at 20 years. That’s the estimated solar equipment lifespan, and that’s how long the permit deals are usually crafted.

Developers argue that working around walls is not an option. The walls are too tall to build over, they interfere with solar panel anchors, they break up nice, neat panel rows … All of which add up to the real concern — they diminish the per-acre profit margin to some extent or other.

No worries, a Brookwood spokesman argued. We’ll bulldoze the walls but rebuild them elsewhere on the property. 

The planning board gave him pushback on that one. It’s like, “I’m going to erase the Mona Lisa and paint it over again. It loses something,” one board member said.

The board resisted, eloquently at times, but was reminded by the developer’s lawyer that the planners really have no legal jurisdiction when it comes to standing up for stone walls.

In the end, the project was approved, the developer pledged to do his best to save some walls (few specifics), but the central wall will likely fall — bulldozed and rebuilt. 

We celebrate our old stone walls in paintings, books and real estate brochures, and we proudly proclaim ourselves ‘Right to Farm’  communities.

Yet the moment a wall stands in the way of progress or profit, these towns seem helpless to defend it.

It will keep happening until ordinances and bylaws make one thing absolutely clear. A genuinely old stone wall is a feature worthy of protection —  demolition is not an option. 

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.