Before the February 5 meeting of the Rochester Conservation Commission kicked off, Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon introduced two new members. Filling vacant slots on the commission and making their first official appearances were Lena Bourque and Kevin Thompson.
Then it was on to the business at hand, continuing hearings, and opening a new one for another solar array project headed to Rochester.
Coming before the commission was Pedro Rodriguez, Solar MA Project Management, LLC, Series XXXVI from New Milford, CT, along with Dan Wells of Goddard Consulting, LLC of Northborough and Austin Turner of Bohler Engineering, Boston and Southborough.
The team described the project planned for forested lands abutting Old Middleboro Road and Walnut Plain Road as a 33-acre solar array field situated in over 140 acres. A service roadway was also briefly discussed.
But the bigger issue this team faced was related to several easements they would need to access and develop the property, as Old Middleboro Road meanders through the site.
During the nearly hour-long presentation, Farinon expressed frustration that the wetland delineations had not been completed yet in spite of numerous meetings with the developer and his representatives.
“There’s going to be a lot of disruption just to get from the road to the site,” she said, disruption that will include jurisdictional areas.
Wells said that most of the site is outside jurisdictional wetlands and buffer zones, but said that the National Heritage & Endangered Species Program had certified the entire acreage as a habitat of the endangered Eastern box turtle.
Commission member Chris Gerrior recused himself from the discussion because he is an abutter, but still asked Wells what considerations were being made for the turtles’ movement post construction. Wells said a 6-inch gap in the chain link fence would accommodate their migrations.
Gerrior also asked if ancient stone walls throughout the site would be left in place or if they would have to be removed. Carter said nearly all would be taken off the site to allow for the solar installation.
Conservation Commission Chairman Michael Conway asked about the chemical composition of the panels themselves. Rodriguez said he would provide materials data sheets.
During Wells’ presentation, he noted the need to identify and work with a group who could become the holders of a conservation restriction planned for many acres around the site. Farinon indicated that it would be a conflict of interest to suggest that the Conservation Commission be that party, given that the commission was also involved in permitting the project. She said she would provide contact information of land trusts and conservation groups in the area.
Then came the question of when the project would begin. This question brought to the surface issues Rodriguez had been working through with legal counsel and the Town’s counsel regarding easements. He indicated that he had been working with Eversource for nearly two years and had reached a point where they agreed to a partnership. But that didn’t address the status of easements. Farinon expressed her frustration again, saying, “Wetlands for the access haven’t been flagged yet.”
Rodriguez commented that he believed agreements were forthcoming regarding conveyance issues, but that didn’t sit well with Conway or Farinon.
Farinon said she and others had already spent a great deal of time consulting with the team and advising them on how to move forward through the permitting process, but here they were without even the wetlands being delineated.
“No one communicated to me … you knew you weren’t ready,” said Farinon.
Conway suggested that a continuance until June might find the developer ready rather than monthly continuances that amounted to “a waste of time.” He said bitterly, “I’m sick and tired of all these continuances.”
Wells asked that instead of waiting until June to return to the Conservation Commission, especially given that they have a meeting next week with the Planning Board, that maybe they should ask to re-open the hearing in March.
Conway countered, “Sure, and if you’re not ready we can vote ‘aye’ or ‘nay’ on your project.”
The hearing was continued until June 4.
In other business, John Churchill, representing the conjoined Notice of Intent hearings for the properties located at Plumb Corner, 565 Rounseville Road, owned by Sophia Darras and Gibbs Bray, gave an update on the stormwater discharge design. He said that the original discharge pipe installed sometime in the late 1980s would be replaced with a system that allowed stormwater to be collected and recharged into the ground. Rainfall calculations were offered and he said he awaited comments from the peer review consultant Ken Motta of Field Engineering to complete changes that would update and improve the water discharge system.
Conway said he had not received an answer to a question he had previously asked – whether or not the stream located near the discharge pipe fell under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Churchill said he had spoken to the EPA office and, since the project only disrupted a small area, it was not within their jurisdiction and did not require additional permitting.
Conway and commissioner Daniel Gagne were not fully in agreement, believing that Churchill had only discovered the EPA’s requirements during construction, not after the fact when discharged water would flow into the abutting stream.
Churchill said he was sure he was correct and that Motta had not commented on that point either, but Churchill provided contact information to Conway for his own follow-up.
The hearing was continued until February 19.
Also continued until February 19 was a Notice of Intent hearing for Borrego Solar Systems for a solar array field proposed for 75 Vaughan Hill Road, and a Notice of Intent filed by Schoen and Bonnie Morrison, 15 Cranberry Highway, for the conversion of an office building to a daycare and event center.
The next meeting of the Rochester Conservation Commission is scheduled for February 19 at 7:00 pm in the town hall meeting room.
Rochester Conservation Commission
By Marilou Newell