Landowners near the site of a proposed solar power project in Pomfret continued their criticism of the plan during a public hearing by the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency this week at Pomfret town hall.
The plan to install dozens of solar panels on currently forested land off Van Buren Road was approved by Pomfret City Council last month, subject to CCIDA’s National Environmental Quality Review. . Thursday’s hearing was led by Kristine Morabito, director of business development at CCIDA, to seek public comment on the project and on asking the county for a payment in lieu of taxes. The exact details of any tax relief are still under negotiation, she said.
Zen Olow, who lives near Bernett Drive in Fredonia, gave Morabito aerial photos of his land to show how the project would play out next door. “Why they want to take agricultural land, which is still viable, for 20 years and maybe not use it, we don’t know” he said of RIC Energy, the outfit who wants the project.
Olow expressed concern that the anti-glare treatment added to the solar panels could leak out and contaminate the local water supply system. He added that RIC Energy would not even consider this project without significant government grants, especially since this area does not get enough sunlight to support a large solar project.
The project would increase drainage problems in the area by removing vegetation cover and harm wildlife, Olow continued. He concluded that he would never have returned to western New York in the 1990s if he had known this project could happen.
One of Olow’s neighbors, Nicholas Danielsen, asked why the project parcel was listed as 24.5 acres in the Notice of Hearing when earlier documents said it was 40 acres. Olow wondered why he had received a notice of the project from RIC Energy in the mail when Danielsen and two other opponents of the project and nearby landowners, Wesley and Bill Bartoo, did not.
Wesley Bartoo said he would inherit his father Bill’s property near the site, so “My main concerns are more long term than immediate. He expressed concern that a $ 250,000 bond that RIC Energy must set aside for the dismantling of the project will not be enough to pay for it in 20 years.
“If RIC goes bankrupt, can they walk away from this project? he wondered. “There is a good chance that in 20 years I will end up with a defunct solar project in my garden.”
Reiterating Olow’s concerns about drainage in the area, which he says is already poor, Bartoo noted RIC Energy “has a plan, I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“How many local jobs will this create? Are local entrepreneurs getting a piece of the pie? “He asked. “What guarantee do we have that the land will be restored in 20 years? If there’s a deal going on, great. But what solid, concrete deal is in place… that it won’t be litigation for 10 years and (the land will be restored) in 30 years? “
Danielsen, who said he lived half the year in Florida, said members of the Pomfret Town board were initially against the project but were influenced by RIC Energy’s agreement to place equipment farther from property lines than originally intended. He added that some of his own neighbors had been falsely influenced by discussions about installing a berm to further protect solar panels – but this was not and never was included in the site plans. .
Noting large tracts of land just to the west near Highway 5, Danielsen said: “There are all kinds of places (for the project) that are wide open that won’t have someone’s neighborhood next to them.”
Wesley Bartoo, who attended a recent Fredonia village board meeting with Olow to ask for their help in opposing the project, said village officials were “dizzy” that Pomfret apparently reversed the course and approved it.
Danielsen criticized Pomfret Town board members for their overthrow and said they had made a “strong suggestion” to RIC that their project would be fine if they removed the equipment from the property line. Olow said their 4-1 vote approved the project, in which several board members said they were anxious about the decision and reluctantly voted yes, “Was an Emmy performance.”
Morabito ended the hearing by providing an update on the status of CCIDA in its review process. “We are currently in our due diligence phase”, she said. The environmental quality review is ongoing and CCIDA will now review the comments received from the hearing, as well as all email and written comments. She added that they will also take into account Olow’s aerial photos.
“All of this will be examined in depth” she promised. Morabito said the CCIDA review is expected to be completed by October 1.
The Bartoos, Danielsen and Olow were the only members of the public who attended Thursday’s hearing other than the WATCHER.