Board Pushes Solar Project Berm Priority

The representatives for the Little Quittacas solar farm were back before the Rochester Planning Board on Tuesday night. At their last meeting on November 27, the Board and engineers discussed the independent peer review results conducted by Field Engineering.

The engineers of the project were hesitant at the last meeting to accept the idea of putting up a bond for the berm.

“I’ve been talking to Blair [Bailey] and Town Council and what we need to be most concerned about is the construction of the berm. The City of New Bedford has the authority to come in and clear-cut that forest. But it’s a concern that we should have some funds, a bond, for the construction of that berm,” said Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson.

He said the berm should be a priority so that residents abutting the property would not have to see the construction and as a safety precaution. The bond would be put up by the City of New Bedford and would be held liable by the Town of Rochester.

Johnson also said that the Board would like some financial assurance attached to the planting and maintenance of the vegetation on and around the berm. He recommended the monetary backup plan in case the new plants do not survive the two-year warranty sought by the engineers.

“There’s no guarantee to the town that they would go back in there and replant it. There’s no other mechanism other than holding some kind of surety in case they don’t make it past the second growing season,” Johnson said.

At the last meeting, the Board requested the engineers include provisions for an annual report on the condition of the vegetation until the two-year window is closed. The Board added a condition to the draft proposal that would require Planning Board members to visit the area on or before June 1, 2015 in order to determine the condition and projected longevity of the vegetation.

Johnson was also concerned at last meeting that there was no representative from ConEd Solutions, the company that would maintain the solar panel site.

“The other issue we discussed two weeks ago was to have a representative from ConEd Solutions to speak to the Board to assure them that ConEd is aware of the process,” said Sam Moffett of TRC Engineering.

Ian Diamond from ConEd Solutions agreed with the Board that a financial surety of some kind placed on the vegetation on the berm was reasonable, though they do not have a solid cost estimate yet.

According to the current draft proposal, the cost of planting the berm was estimated at $96,000, which includes a 50 percent surety.

Johnson said he was amenable to the engineers submitting revised landscaping numbers for consideration, but any figures would be cross-checked by the town’s engineer.

“We could entertain that and put a contingency on top of that,” said Johnson.

He reiterated that the berm was the Board’s first priority and once completed, the town would release the money related to the bond for its construction.

The public hearing was continued until the next meeting in January. If both the Board and engineers find the final draft of the proposal acceptable, the Planning Board could finally hold a vote on the project, which has been in the application process for months.

In other business, the Planning Board voted to recommend the Board of Selectmen not exercise the right of first refusal regarding the acquisition of land on Alley Road, currently owned by Thomas Gayoski. They voted to give the same recommendation for land owned by cranberry grower A.D. Makepeace.

The Planning Board also signed off on an Approval Not Required application to split an existing lot at 265 Hartley Road in order to create another house lot.

“The proposal here is to separate out a two-acre lot for new construction,” said engineer Rick Charon who represented the applicants, Andrea Meunier, Eileen Manley and Sara Doane.

The current lot is about five acres in size and each lot would maintain more than adequate frontage after the split.

The Planning Board also held an informal discussion with engineer Tim Higgins, who has proposed the construction of a mailbox kiosk at Connet Woods.

“Back in ’06 and ’07 we were not anticipating mail delivery to anything but individual homes,” said Tim Higgins. Over the years, the United States Postal Service has had to change their delivery service, resulting in the increase in residential mailbox kiosks around the country.

Connet Woods has over 100 individual addresses today.

Much of the land is protected by a conservation restriction, which prohibits any development whatsoever. The new proposal would place the kiosk closer to the drainage lots.

“The only place we can really put it is on a building lot. It would be a non-conforming lot,” Higgins said. He indicated that the proposed location of the kiosk was less than 1,000 square feet.

Johnson said that he walked the site recently and concurred that the drainage lot would be ideal for the construction of the kiosk, but Higgins would have to go through the appeals process because the Planning Board cannot create non-conforming lots.

Higgins requested another informal discussion at the next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board, scheduled for Tuesday, January 8 at 7:00 pm at the Town Hall.

By Eric Tripoli

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