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Rochester Solar Farm Scope Reduced by Half

Rochester Board of Selectmen

By Jean Perry

Residents living near the proposed solar farm slated for the center of Rochester were surprised to hear July 20 that the developer has scaled down the size of the project by 50 percent - from a 10-acre solar farm to a 5-acre one.

The Rochester Board of Selectmen, although not a party to the permitting process for the project, was included in the conversation as a courtesy, said NextSun Energy Project Manager Amelia Tracy, after the community responded with concerns over screening. Concerns focused on the selective cutting of older, taller trees along the initially proposed 20-foot buffer around the site to be clear-cut to make way for solar arrays.

"We decreased the size of the project in an effort to screen it out more," said Tracy. "We had a completely different-shaped project before." She called this latest plan a "less impactful project."

Tracy said the project was scaled down in size to provide for a wider buffer of 80 feet along the perimeter instead of the 20 feet. The developer also proposes placing a conservation restriction for the 25-year duration of the project on a portion of the property NextSun is purchasing, the old Gibbs dairy farm between Dexter Lane and New Bedford Road.

"I know there's been a lot of buzz about [the project]," said Tracy. For this reason, the company provided an early rendering of the view of the solar farm from the abutting historic cemetery. Low-lying vegetation would be left alone and only the selective cutting of trees that would cast a shade on the panels would be carried out. Additional trees and shrubs for further screening would be added.

"Our project, as we see it, is going to be completely screened from New Bedford Road," said Tracy. She said only one 20-foot wide access road would be visible from the road, with no view of the solar arrays. From the cemetery, said NextSun Energy President Jacob Laskin, a faint line of the solar arrays would be visible.

Abutter to the project, Matthew Monteiro, said, "So if I am standing in the historic district, I can see the solar panels." Tracy reminded Monteiro that the company has yet to file any applications with the Town. According to Laskin, NextSun attempted to file with the Planning Board without success, but will again file in the near future for a site plan review.

"We do feel it's a good use [of the land]," said Tracy. "We do feel we would be a good neighbor." For example, she said, the project would contribute to the town's tax base without drawing on municipal services.

Resident, former town moderator, and former candidate for selectman Greenwood "Woody" Hartley asked what the value of the project would be, which NextSun representatives said would be about $1.75 million. Hartley urged selectmen and abutters to consider, as opposed to a strip mall moving in, there would be no nighttime light pollution or noise.

"This is a passive neighbor once it's done," said Hartley. "I'd just hate to see us shut it out..."

But it is the neighbors who would experience the most impact, said Town Counsel Blair Bailey. "They're going to want to know if you can or cannot see it from a public way. From a neighbor's standpoint, that's going to come up with the Planning Board."

Also during the meeting, selectmen and Bailey discussed their strategy to get Melinda and Liberal Teixeira of 386 North Avenue to comply with the board's August 2014 orders to either build a proper shelter for their kennel dogs or cease the kennel's operation.

According to Bailey, the Teixeiras appealed the board's decision in District Court and then did not appear at the hearing, thus subjecting themselves to the order to comply by default. Since then, the animal control officer has issued a number of violation tickets, and selectmen urged the ACO to continue to issue fines of $50 and $100 per violation every day. The police chief has also filed criminal charges against the couple. The Teixeiras are now operating a kennel without a permit.

"Hopefully we end up in court this week with some sort of court order," Bailey said. "That's (the tickets and the criminal complaint) literally the only teeth we have." He said, frankly, he hopes to move forward with the criminal complaint.

"Then it becomes a warrant and that is a serious thing," said Bailey.

According to Bailey, the Teixeiras have approached the police chief with concern about the tickets.

"Hopefully we've gotten their attention," said Bailey. "But I don't want to give anybody any false hope," Bailey said to neighbors of the Teixeiras present in the room. "We're doing what we can to ramp up the pressure." He then suggested neighbors contact the ACO when they observe the Teixeiras at home so the ACO can appear to inspect the premises. Bailey said the ACO has not had luck finding anyone at home, and, without a warrant, the ACO is unable to enter the property to inspect.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Richard Nunes asked if anything had changed at all on the property since the Teixeiras' initial appeal.

"No," said Bailey. "The ACO actually said, from the time that she went out in that 14 days ... she actually counted more dogs [than counted in the past.]" He said he would like to see the Teixeiras ticketed every day. "It's a nuisance and it's also a violation of the Town bylaws. It's a fine and it's enforceable in District Court, and, ultimately, Superior Court."

"We're hitting it at as many angles as we can," said Selectman Naida Parker.

In other matters, Rochester's water commissioners attended to update selectmen on the status of the renewal of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's 20-year Water Management Act Permit, which regulates the quantity of water towns and districts can withdraw from waterways and water sources.

Water commissioner Fred Underhill said the DEP would reduce the amount of water Rochester and other surrounding towns could draw, which, he said, would be a problem.

"Our 50 percent would be reduced," said Underhill. "The 200 plus Rochester water residents will see an increase in cost, and probably a reduction in what they'll be able to use."

Underhill said he would keep the board updated as the process unfolds.

The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for August 10 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

Town Meeting Was Held Without a Quorum

Rochester Board of Selectmen Part Two

By Jean Perry

Selectmen admitted July 20 to the recent discovery that the June 8 Rochester Annual Town Meeting was held without a quorum, resulting in town counsel's scurrying for a solution.

The Rochester Board of Selectmen, Town Administrator Michael McCue, and Town Counsel Blair Bailey all appeared visibly unprepared for the questioning initiated by former town moderator and former candidate for selectman Greenwood "Woody" Hartley, after he called for selectmen to reopen their July 20 meeting after they had already adjourned so he could address the board.

Hartley claimed to have received a number of phone calls alleging the absence of a quorum of 100 at the Annual Town Meeting, saying the meeting never should have been opened.

Bailey admitted that he became aware of the concern a couple of weeks ago when Town Clerk/Selectman Naida Parker was preparing the documents from the Annual Town Meeting for submission to the Attorney General's Office and noticed a total number of Town Meeting members present was not listed. She then approached Bailey once she realized only 91 Town Meeting members were present, nine short of a quorum.

"I believe the [attorney general] had mentioned that this is not unusual," said McCue. "Other towns have had not having a quorum at their annual town meeting."

Bailey contacted the AG's office, as well as State Representative Bill Straus' office, to ask for special legislation that would allow the Annual TM to stand, as well as all the articles voted upon during TM.

The two other selectmen, Chairman Richard Nunes and Selectman Bradford Morse, both said they had only learned of the matter in an email sent to them the night before the meeting.

Hartley wondered how this could happen, saying he could not recall the presence of a quorum being announced or questioned at the start of the Annual TM, only the presence of a quorum of 75 for the preceding Special Town Meeting announced by newly elected Town Moderator Kirby Gilbert.

"I would like to know from the town clerk how that happened," said Hartley to Parker. He had been town moderator for 20 years, pointing out that this had never happened before.

Parker said she called a quorum of 100 at TM, but "I wasn't agreed with."

"This is way more serious," said Hartley. "I hate to see this happen, and I don't think we should get a free pass on this (from the AG). Somebody ought to fess up," he said, instead of "scurrying around behind the scenes."

Hartley said he himself would contact Straus' office to specifically ask him not to allow the Annual TM to stand.

"The Town should fix this right away," said Hartley.

"I agree with you," said Nunes to Hartley. "When I found out about it, I was just as concerned about it as you." However, said Nunes, does the Town stick with operating under the fiscal year 2015 budget at this time? Does the Town nullify its amended bylaws? Nunes said nobody knew there was no quorum.

"Naida knew," Hartley shot back.

"No, I didn't know until after..." said Parker. "We started the Special (TM) and I never got down to check, and Kirby didn't call it."

That is a failure, Hartley stated twice. "That's just a failure. It should've happened the right way." He said he waited before questioning selectmen and Parker about the quorum to see how they would handle it.

"Good golly, we should have good government and this isn't good government," said Hartley.

Nunes pointed out that, last year, Mattapoisett also discovered its town meeting did not have a quorum, and the Town followed the same route Rochester is following - to garner support for special legislation to accept the TM without the quorum. Otherwise, said Nunes, the town accrues further expenses holding another Annual TM, wreaking havoc with the current budget and bylaw amendments.

"It has been reported to the attorney general, so that's been noted," said Parker. "They are aware that there was not a quorum."

To be clear, said Bailey, he didn't hear about the problem until a couple of weeks ago. He hesitated to announce anything until he could encounter a viable solution to the matter.

"Best I can tell, it was a miscommunication," said Bailey. "I don't think he (Gilmore) made a reference to the quorum at the Annual." Just during the Special Town Meeting.

Nunes assured Hartley that the Town would not have held the town meeting if anyone knew there was no quorum.

"And to me, it was new territory," said Bailey.

But that is the beauty of having the pink cards, said Hartley. There is a number on each card. "I'm unhappy about the way it makes us look," said Hartley. Morse said the issue was between the town moderator and the town clerk.

Nunes agreed that Hartley was right, and agreed that the selectmen should have been informed about the petition to Straus' office so a formal vote could be taken.

"If the Town is asking a state rep to file special legislation, then damn it, the Board of Selectmen should know about it," said Nunes raising his voice. "They should know about it."

Bailey insisted he could not come to the board without any idea on what to do - not until he had a solution to offer them. At this point, he said, the Town will wait to hear back from Straus.

"I think the selectmen should take the lead on this," said Hartley. "I've heard two different stories about how it happened."

Bailey said he understands Hartley's concern, but he resented the implication that there was a cover-up.

"It falls on me to come up with a legal remedy," said Bailey. "Sitting right here, I don't have an answer."

"My first call would have been all three selectmen," said Hartley. "Selectmen need to know this shit."

Parker again defended her actions, saying she didn't know until almost 30 days later when she was filing with the AG's office. "I had no reason to count them."

"However you slice it," said Bailey, "it's a mess. The question is how to fix it at this point. And that's up to the selectmen."

After the meeting, Bailey said he believes the combination of a new town moderator, a new town administrator, and a newly-amended quorum, which was increased last year from 75 to 100, was where the problem likely happened.

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