Pomfret residents blast solar farm plan

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Pomfret officials and residents gather around a laptop computer Wednesday at Town Hall, listening to comments during a hearing on a proposed solar power farm.

Residents of Bernett Drive in Fredonia slammed a proposed solar farm on Van Buren Road that would run up against their properties, during a Pomfret Town Board hearing Wednesday.

Town Clerk Allison Vento opened the hearing by reading a letter she received from a group of residents of the street. They flatly stated that they do not think a solar farm should be sited near them.

“We have significant safety concerns. For example, the neighborhood children will be curious about the solar array equipment so close to their backyard and be tempted to explore dangerous areas near the solar arrays and transformers,” the letter states.

The residents also wrote that their land values would likely decrease. They cited “negative visual and aesthetic impacts.” Woodland “would be replaced by a stark view of an industrial solar array.” The letter asserted that even with trees planted to screen the solar panels from the properties, the farm would still be partially visible, and a lack of foliage during part of the year would make it even more obvious then.

Concerns were also expressed over storm water drainage issues, and a loss of natural forest and wetland habitat. The Bernett Drive residents demanded a number of changes, including a 12-foot-tall earthen berm, to the plan if it does go forward. But they made clear they want the town board to deny a special use permit for the project.

“This is an allowable use under the town’s solar law,” said John Reagan of RIC Energy, the outfit that is proposing the farm. He stated no substances in the solar panels will leach out, no glare will come from them and no noise will be heard outside of the farm fence to be placed on the property lines.

“The project enjoys some natural screening which we will enhance with dedicated plantings,” he said.

Reagan then revealed that the proposed layout of the farm got revised due to concerns from town officials and residents. “We significantly reduced the amount of solar panels and increased the setbacks quite a bit,” he said. They now propose to keep all equipment 160 feet from the farm fence. The Bernett Drive residents sought a 200-foot setback in their letter.

Reagan also asserted that according to RIC Energy’s study, drainage issues in the area will not be worsened by the solar farm.

As for the berm, “We studied that and we recommend there not be a berm,” he said. The berm would require a lot of materials, it would disturb the wetlands the residents want to protect, and it could worsen the drainage issues in the neighborhood. Reagan said existing trees and planned plantings should be sufficient to screen the property from nearby homes.

Criticism of the plan extended beyond the letter read by Vento. Both Pomfret residents and officials expressed deep concerns at the hearing, whether in person or on Zoom.

“I’ll be able to see those panels no matter what you put in there,” said Zen Olow. He added that decommissioned solar farms in Niagara County have wound up classified as brownfields.

Reagan responded, “We’re obligated to maintain the vegetative cover during the life of the project,” and the land would be returned to its original state once the solar farm shut down. He said he did not understand Olow’s comment on the brownfields.

Another resident reiterated the letter’s concern about property values. Also, Brett Christy of the Pomfret Town Board stated that the project would include eight utility poles that were not included on the post-construction view submitted in the proposal. An RIC representative who Zoomed in acknowledged that the utility poles were needed as a point of connection with National Grid equipment on Van Buren Road.

“I can’t believe with all the empty fields in Fredonia, you chose that area,” Linda Granata told the RIC representatives. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Granata and other residents said they were not notified of anything from RIC, they only received notices from the town about the public hearing. Reagan — who was clearly on the defensive by the end of the hearing — stated the company sent out mailings, and he would look into when they were sent.

The Town Board was unable to make a decision on a permit for the solar farm Wednesday. That’s because the matter had to be referred to the Chautauqua County Planning Board, which has 30 days from date of referral to respond with its opinions. Vento said she has not yet received such a response.


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