Solar Farm Faces Questions

Blue Wave Capital revealed more about the solar farm planned off Tinkham Hill Road at the Mattapoisett Conservation Commission meeting on Monday night. It was the second board the applicant has approached with a presentation – having previously met with the Planning Board – as representatives make their rounds in advance of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

About 15 abutters and close neighbors to the proposed site came ready to hear from Richard Charon of Charon Associates, as well as the applicant. Charon unveiled the site plans for the commission members and the public. There was a distinct murmured gasp from the community members when the full scope of the project was unveiled.

Charon detailed site plans focusing on those areas under the commission’s responsibility: the integrity of the wetlands, storm water run-off, soils, vegetation, and other natural resources. He described 100-fot buffer zones, storm water drainage, and low percentage of non-impervious materials (1,500 square feet) combining to keep construction impact subtle. Charon further noted chain-link fencing that would surround the entire solar field.

The plan consists of 25 acres, which will be clear cut of all trees and natural vegetation. Charon said that loam could and should be conserved from tree removal, but some new soil will be needed. Hydro-seeding will be done to replace the excavated natural woodlands with “virtually no impact on storm water run-off,” he told the group. Charon did indicate that the abutters on Shady Oak Drive would be the ones most profoundly impacted by the project.

Blue Wave Managing Partner John DeVillars and other staff were on hand to respond to questions from the public. Abutters the Lopes of Tinkham Hill Road stated that their property sits below the site and expressed concerns about run-off. Charon said that a swale would divert storm water, allowing absorption. They also asked about the potential displacement of wildlife. Although Charon noted massive swamplands contiguous to the project, the Lopes seemed unconvinced that deer and other small woodland animals would simply go back into the swamps.

Paul Coderre of North Street inquired about hazardous materials inside the transformers and any resulting leakage in the event of a catastrophic episode, as well as any noise that might emanate from transformers. Those concerns were assuaged by Blue Wave.

Pat Aiello of Tinkham Hill Road wanted to know who would benefit from the energy produced. DeVillars said that Blue Wave is working with NStar and is permitted to sell the power within a designated “load zone,” which includes Mattapoisett. Currently, Blue Wave has secured several private customers in other towns. Mattapoisett’s benefit would derive from taxes paid on the property versus lowered electrical costs.

Chair Peter Newton explained to the assembled that the commission could only address those concerns within their scope of responsibility. The public had many more questions outside the commission’s purview.

“We want to engage the community,” DeVillars said. “We want to meet with you and hear your questions.”

A series of exchanges between commission members and Building Commissioner Andrew Bobola followed.

“Until a Request for Determination of Applicability has been given, why should we vote?” Newton asked.

“We shouldn’t hold them up if they don’t have their RDA,” member Robert Rogers said. “They should be able to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals.”

“Use involves a footprint,” Bobola said. He said he felt that footprint should be measured before the applicant proceeds. “I think we’ve got the cart a bit before the horse on this one.”

Agent Elizabeth Leidhold said that she would have the site lines and delineations reviewed in the next two weeks, weather permitting.

The commission continued further discussion of the application for several weeks. Blue Wave was clearly disappointed in the lack of forward movement as expressed by DeVillars: “That wasn’t what we were hoping to hear tonight.”

Before the next agenda item could be heard, those in attendance to comment on the construction project were directed to take further discussions into the hallway. The room quickly cleared as abutters met with DeVillars.

Other agenda items: Pease Point Association received approval for repairing the sea wall damaged by recent storms. Monika Schuler of 109 Marion Road requested and received approval confirming the limits of bordering vegetated wetlands, thereby providing full disclosure to prospective buyers of the 16-acre site. Alan Decker of the Buzzards Bay Coalition sought approval to hold preservation as is at North Woods, land now owned by the town. This was affirmed.

The night wasn’t over quite yet, as the question of which boards should be approached sequentially or concurrently when applicants are seeking various approvals was again raised by Rogers. He wanted the issue placed on the next agenda, thus allowing the members along with the Building Commissioner to flesh out what makes the best sense for the community. Chairman Newton asked Rogers to write something up before the next meeting to give the group time to review and explore the matter prior to the next scheduled meeting.

With that, minutes were approved., and Leidhold gave her report, which included an April 29 Open Space Committee public hearing. The Conservation Commission meets again on April 8 at 6:30pm.

By Marilou Newell

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