In its January 19 meeting, the Rochester Conservation Commission addressed a public hearing relating to the construction of a new solar array near Featherbed Lane. Eric Las, of Beals and Thomas Inc., who has been representing the project since its inception in February of last year, spoke with commission members about the project’s progress over the lengthy review process.
According to Las, nearly all of the peer-review comments provided by the commission’s independent reviewer had been addressed since Las spoke on the matter in November. Despite his progress, the conclusion of the review process hinged on a lack of consensus regarding which set of rainfall data should be used to determine the size of the required stormwater basin located on the site.
Las, who has worked closely with the Town of Rochester on numerous projects, communicated his surprise when the commission’s peer-review consultant advised him to change his rainfall figures nearly 11 months into the public hearing process. Las explained that he has historically used Rochester’s rules and regulations as the guidelines for which rainfall data to incorporate into the calculations for his proposals. “That is the industry standard, and it is what we use to design our projects,” Las told commission members.
For Las, the change in the rainfall calculations this late into the project’s design would essentially bring the project to a halt. The change would require a complete redesign of the stormwater basin built within the solar array and lead to an increase in the total land area of the site. As Las has been working with the commission to avoid impacting surrounding wetlands, any increase in the project’s size would potentially bring the site into protected wetlands areas.
Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon told commission members that the peer-review consultant had argued for an increase in projected rainfall due to work that is currently being conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection relating to climate change. Farinon explained that the move toward increasing projected rainfall was likely advocated as it seems to be closer to figures that will probably be proposed in a newer version of the DEP Stormwater Handbook.
Even with figures likely trending toward increased rainfall projections, Farinon concluded that it would be unreasonable to impose this change to the project, as the Town of Rochester still adheres to the current regulations provided by the DEP. For Farinon, requiring Las to change his rainfall calculations would be against the town regulations and bylaws and ultimately put the town in an indefensible position if the applicant were to challenge the condition.
Farinon recommended that the Conservation Commission closely follow any updates on the DEP regulations but allow the project to go forward using the town’s current rules. With that, the Rochester Conservation Commission voted to issue an Order of Conditions and allow the Featherbed Lane Solar Project to move forward.
Commission business concluded with a review of a wetland delineation conducted by wetland scientist Ward Smith. On behalf of applicant Ryan Young, Smith explained that the site in question had faced significant review by the commission as numerous potential flooding areas and resource areas subject to commission oversight could exist in the area. Despite any potential concerns, Smith explained that, in the early stages of any possible development of the area, the applicant wants to confirm the wetland delineation before moving forward. With a wetland line in place, the applicant will begin groundwater and topographic testing, subject to commission review in a formal Notice of Intent filing.
Since the applicant sought only a wetland delineation, Farinon agreed that approval of the delineation should be granted, as any resource areas of potential concern do not qualify under the Resource Area Delineation Application. The commission voted to approve the wetland delineation and address any potential flooding or protected resource areas on the site in the formal application process.
The next Rochester Conservation Commission is scheduled for February 2 at 7:00 pm and will be conducted via Zoom.
Rochester Conservation Commission
By Matthew Donato