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Pomfret solar project criticism continues

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford Zen Olow, right, hands aerial photos of his property to Kristine Morabito of the Chautaqua County Industrial Development Agency, left, at a CCIDA hearing Thursday about a proposed solar power project that would abut his land. At center is the CCIDA’s Rosie Strandburg. Residents continue energy project criticism

Property owners near the site of a proposed solar energy project in Pomfret continued their criticism of the plan at a Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency public hearing this week at Pomfret Town Hall.

The plan to put dozens of solar panels on currently wooded land off Van Buren Road was approved by the Pomfret Town Board last month, contingent upon CCIDA’s State Environmental Quality Review. The hearing Thursday was conducted by Kristine Morabito, CCIDA business development manager, to gather public comments about both the project and the fact that it has applied for Payment In Lieu of Taxes from the county. The exact details of any tax breaks are still in negotiation, she said.

Zen Olow, who lives on nearby Bernett Drive in Fredonia, gave Morabito aerial photos of his land to show how the project would run up next to it. “Why they want to take agricultural land, which is still viable, for 20 years and possibly not put it to use, we don’t know,” he said of RIC Energy, the outfit that wants the project.

Olow expressed concerns that the anti-glare treatment added to the solar panels could run off and contaminate the local water system. He added that RIC Energy would not even consider this project without heavy government subsidies, especially as this area does not get enough sunlight to support a large solar project.

The project would increase drainage problems in the area by removing ground cover and would harm wildlife, Olow continued. He concluded that he never would have moved back to Western New York in the 1990s if he had known this project might happen.

One of Olow’s neighbors, Nicholas Danielsen, questioned why the project parcel was listed as 24.5 acres in the hearing notice when past documents have said it was 40 acres. Olow wondered why he received a RIC Energy notice of the project in the mail while Danielsen and two other project opponents and nearby property owners, Wesley and Bill Bartoo, did not.

Wesley Bartoo said he would inherit his father Bill’s property near the site, so “my primary concerns are more long-term than immediate.” He expressed worries that a $250,000 bond RIC Energy is required to set aside for decommissioning the project will not be enough to pay for that in 20 years.

“If RIC goes belly-up, do they have the opportunity to get away from this project?” he wondered. “Odds are, in 20 years, I’m going to end up with some defunct solar project in my backyard.”

Repeating Olow’s concerns about drainage in the area, which he said 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 any local contractors getting a piece of the pie?”he asked. “What guarantee do we have that land will be restored in 20 years? If there’s a current agreement, that’s great. But what solid, concrete agreement is in place … that it won’t be tied up in litigation for 10 years and (the land will be restored) 30 years from now?”

Danielsen, who said he lives half the year in Florida, said Pomfret Town Board members were initially against the project but were swayed by RIC Energy’s agreement to set equipment back further from the property lines than it originally planned. He added some of his own neighbors were falsely influenced by talk of the installation of a berm to further screen the solar panels — but that was not, and never has been, included in the site plans.

Noting large tracts of land just to the west near Route 5, Danielsen said, “There’s all kinds of places (for the project) that are wide open that are not gonna have someone’s neighborhood next to it.”

Wesley Bartoo, who attended a recent Fredonia Village Board meeting with Olow to ask for their help in opposing the project, said the village officials were “stunned” that Pomfret apparently reversed course and approved it.

Danielsen bashed Pomfret Town Board members for their reversal and said that they made a “strong suggestion” to RIC that their project would be fine if they moved equipment back from the property line. Olow said their 4-1 vote approving the project, in which several board members said they agonized over the decision and were reluctantly voting yes, “was an Emmy performance.”

Morabito ended the hearing by updating on where the CCIDA is in its review process. “We are currently in our due diligence phase,” she said. The environmental quality review is ongoing, and the CCIDA will now review comments gathered at the hearing, as well as any email and written comments. She added that they will also consider Olow’s aerial photos.

“All of that will be reviewed thoroughly,” she promised. Morabito said the CCIDA’s reviewing is expected to be complete by Oct. 1.

The Bartoos, Danielsen and Olow were the only members of the public who attended Thursday’s hearing, other than the OBSERVER.

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