Neck Road Solar Project Outlined

            Renewable Energy Development Partners, LLC came before the Rochester Planning Board on September 7 in a first of what no doubt will be multiple meetings to hammer out details on a new solar array project proposed for Neck Road.

            Representing the developer for the Notice of Intent filing was Sarah Stearns of Beals and Thomas, Inc., who spoke about the plan’s uniqueness as a both a canal canopy and dual-use agricultural solar-array project.

            Stearns said that the plan includes some 1,300 linear feet of ground-mounted solar panels that will traverse agricultural canals already located on the property. Regarding the dual agricultural use aspect to the project, she said that approximately 3 acres of previously disturbed land would be used for the construction of a ground-mounted array that allows for agricultural cultivation under the panels.

            Speaking to the new solar designs planned for the site, Henry Ouimet of Renewable Energy Development Partners said, “We are looking at shade-tolerant fruit trees and vegetables – it’s a new area.” He said that his company has made a 20-year commitment to farm the solar array fields. It is an emerging farming practice, Ouimet explained.

            Commissioner Maggie Payne asked about the proposed use of treated timber posts for some if not all of the panels planned. She wondered aloud about the leaching of harmful chemicals into soils that would be used for agricultural purposes. Ouimet responded that chemical leaching presents a “miniscule threat from migration.” He said that a year of research has taken place regarding this concern and that the proprietary nature of the solar design makes it necessary to use timber posts at least for the canal canopy but that metal posts might be used for the dual-use acres.

            Voicing concern for trees was Meg Sheehan of Save the Pine Barrens, a grassroots organization headquartered in Plymouth with the mission of protecting forests and soil removal. She said that a number of Rochester residents have contacted her with concerns. After stating, “Dual use is a hoax, according to our research,” she asked for more engineered plans.

            Also expressing some concern were two abutters, Michael Surace, who was not in favor of a planned berm that would be visible along Neck Road, and Tim Batch, who questioned the number of trees that would be removed for the dual-use array.

            A site visit by the commission was planned and the filing continued until September 21.

            Also coming before the commission was Tess Pagannelli of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority requesting a Certificate of Compliance for work necessitated by an Enforcement Order after unpermitted clearing had been discovered.

            Representing the agency was Jonathan Niro of BETA Engineering. Niro demonstrated through photographic evidence that remediation plantings have survived and that plantings overall are growing in abundance. Conservation Agent Merilee Kelly said, “Things look pretty lush; I’d give them a certificate.” The certificate was issued.

            A Request for Determination of Applicability filed by Douglas Rose received a positive determination, meaning the proposed fence installation planned for 89 Box Turtle Drive will require a Notice of Intent filing. The RDA was deemed insufficient for the project. Commissioner Dan Gagne believes that an RDA would not provide the type of oversight necessary for the project. The other commissioners agreed.

            The RDA filed by Darrell Charron, 15 Wolf Island Road, was continued until September 21 to give the applicant time to work with the Building Department and make a final determination as to the size of structure that zoning will allow.

            The next meeting of the Rochester Conservation Commission is scheduled for Tuesday, September 21, at 7:00 pm.

Rochester Conservation Commission

By Marilou Newell

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