Rochester is preparing for its next solar array farm, this time on 32 acres of land off Old Middleboro Road and Walnut Plain Road.
The project proposed by Solar MA Project Management, LLC would be the eighth solar energy development in Rochester, and the largest so far with an energy generating capacity of five megawatts of electricity.
The Rochester Planning Board opened up the Special Permit public hearing on October 31 for round one of what will become a series of continued public hearings as the board works with its peer-review engineer to achieve full compliance with the town’s solar bylaw.
Austin Turner from Bohler Engineering presented the board with a plan that has seen some changes along the way through the Notice of Intent process with the Conservation Commission and after a few informal technical review meetings with the Planning Board.
“The plan has evolved and, frankly, benefitted from those conversations,” said Turner before presenting a brief history of an informal conceptual review in September.
The land proposed for solar development is only 32 acres out of the 260-acre property the solar developer purchased in order to acquire an access point to reach the site that is surrounded by a vast system of wetlands.
The remaining 228 acres, which includes sites that the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program has identified as habitat for rare and endangered species, will be deeded as conservation land to be held and managed by the Buzzards Bay Coalition.
Old Middleboro Road, which has been deemed an ‘ancient way’ and will provide the primary access to the site, will be widened from 12 feet to 16 feet to accommodate the maneuvering of emergency response vehicles. Some rerouting of the way is also planned.
As an ancient way, public use of Old Middleboro Road for access to other nearby properties will continue. Turner confirmed this after the developer consulted with town counsel to establish the right of access for those who have historically traversed Old Middleboro Road.
A stormwater management system consisting of three stormwater basins and a system of perimeter vegetated swales is proposed so that water runoff can infiltrate into the ground.
Planning Board Chairman Arnie Johnson noted the presence of a historical stone foundation within the 32 acres, which Turner said would be precisely marked and preserved.
According to Johnson, Town Planner Steve Starrett did some research on the possible history of the ruins, “And the guy (who once lived there) was kind of a prominent person, so we would probably want to protect that and probably… would like to maintain public access to that part of that site as well,” said Johnson.
“I think we could accommodate that,” said Turner. “Right now we don’t think that will be a problem.”
Johnson said he prefers holding a site visit sooner rather than later, and asked Turner to be sure flagging is completed to indicate the limits of clearing, where the edge of the panels will be, and where the access road will be.
A few abutters new to the solar farm permitting process asked some familiar questions asked by residents before them, such as the extent of any noise or light emitting from the site. As Planning Board member Ben Bailey stated, the humming from the transformers would be audible only from a limited distance, and “quieter than the conversation we’re having now.”
As for light emissions, the panels contain no other source of light apart from the sun that shines on them during the day. There is also no exterior lighting proposed for the site.
A representative from Decas Cranberry voiced a concern about the potential for access road improvements encouraging further ATV use into abutting Decas property, but apart from the gate that will secure the actual solar farm, no further gates can go up on Old Middleboro Road.
“They’re not allowed by law to block an ancient way,” Johnson said.
Before adjourning, Johnson reassured concerned residents that this was only the first night of the public hearing and that there would be plenty of additional opportunities to ask questions along the way.
The public hearing was continued until November 12.
Also during the meeting, the board approved the Special Permit for a large-scale solar farm on Marion Road for Rochester Farms, LLC, owned by Craig Canning.
The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for November 12 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Planning Board
By Jean Perry