Randall Lane Solar Array Brings Questions

            It was a packed remote meeting room on October 19 when the Planning Board opened the hearing for a site-plan review of a proposed solar array off Randall Lane. Property owned by Randall Lane LLC, if approved, will contain up to 78 acres of which 30 will be utilized for the expected 20,000 solar panels needed to produce 7.7 megawatts of energy. Those 30 acres will be in two separate locations on the property to make the best use of available uplands.

            It was good news to many in attendance to learn from Lars that an existing 1741 homestead and barn will not be directly impacted by the construction of the array.

            Coming before the board to present the project was Eric Las of the engineering firm Beals and Thomas, as well as Joe Harrison, director of project development for SunRaise, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based solar development company.

            Before Las launched into the nuts and bolts of the project, board Chairman Tom Tucker had letters and emails sent to the board regarding the project read into the minutes. A letter from abutter David Nicolosi spoke to damage that might be caused by heavy trucks using a narrow dirt lane and the inability to easily navigate turning on said lane.

            The Mattapoisett Historical Commission spoke to concerns that the historic stone bridge might be in harm’s way during construction and urged conditioning safeguards and restrictions in the event the project advances to construction phases. While comments from letter writers were not in opposition to the project, putting rules and conditions in place to protect existing roadways, easements, and access by property owners were expressed.

            Las painted the technical aspects with a light brush as it was understood that several more meetings will need to take deeper dives before closing the public hearing. On this night he discussed stormwater systems, site fencing, erosion controls, underground conduits for electrical transmission, storage batteries, and transformers.

            Of the erosion control design, Las called it a “robust sediment primacy control,” that included silk socks and fencing. Stump grindings would be used in the early deforestation phase, Las said, to aid with water sheeting from the site. He also noted that a large sector which had been used for agricultural purposes was already empty of trees.

            During the public-comment portion of the hearing, Bob Spooner, neighbor to the project and member of the Mattapoisett Historical and Mattapoisett Agricultural commissions, asked if better signage might be placed at the bridge to help alert drivers to the weight restriction. (The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has restricted vehicles more than 2.5 tons.) Spooner also asked if a bond would be put in place exclusively for any damages created by construction-related vehicles using the bridge. Tucker responded, “All your concerns will be taken into account.” Going further Tucker said, “They won’t be using that bridge.”

            Later in the proceedings, Tucker said the Planning Board could ask for a police officer detail at the River Road and Randall Lane intersection to aid in keeping large trucks off the bridge span, calling it, “the cost of doing business. We are going to be very attentive.”

            Contrasting this proposed project against the completed Crystal Springs Road solar array a short distance as the crow flies from Randall Lane, Tom Gronski of 25 River Road said he was worried that heavy vehicles would be coming and going all hours of the day and night. He noted that during the Crystal Springs build-out up to 10 tractor-trailers were lined up with motors idling.

            John Duke, 12 Randall Lane, asked, “How does this help the town?” That question remained unanswered, but he further commented that Randall Lane is often unpassable after a snow event.

            Planning Board member Nathan Ketchell asked Las if the project would be going before the Zoning Board of Appeals since it would be a change of use. Las responded “no,” that he had been advised by the zoning enforcement officer that would not be necessary, just the Planning Board’s site-plan review. A surprised Ketchell asked that the Planning Board contact the Building Department for clarification. Las also stated that the town’s counsel had participated in discussions that called for Planning Board site-plan review but not Zoning Board of Appeals permitting.

            In a follow-up call to Andy Bobola, director of Inspectional Services for the town, he said that there had been discussions between the applicant, town counsel, and himself in which various permitting scenarios were reviewed. “It was determined that the town’s interests would be best served by the Planning Board and its site-plan review process,” Bobola explained, negating the need for a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing.

            In fact, during the Planning Board hearing, for more than an hour board members asked a series of questions, made comments, and requested more details of Las and his team.

            The hearing was continued until November 2, at which time the board has asked that the topic surety be the focus.

            In other matters, the board approved the removal of a maple tree at risk of falling on Shipyard Lane, and continued informal discussions with Douglas Schneider for a residential subdivision planned off Park Street.

            The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Planning Board is scheduled for November 2 at 7:00 pm.

            Editor’s Note: Author Marilou Newell is a member of the Mattapoisett Historical Commission.

Mattapoisett Planning Board

By Marilou Newell

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