The Westerly Sun
HOPKINTON — At the conclusion of a public hearing Wednesday on the preliminary plan for a commercial solar generating facility at 310 Main St., members of the Planning Board said they needed time to consider changes that had been proposed.
Board members agreed to submit questions and requests for clarification to Town Planner James Lamphere, who will transmit them to the developer. At the May 1 Planning Board meeting, the board will render a decision on both the preliminary and the final development plans.
The developer, Anthony DelVicario of Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy LLC, has received approval from the Town Council for comprehensive plan and zoning amendments changing the zone of the Main Street property from residential to commercial/special. The 10.6-megawatt project would be built on 68 acres owned by Roy Dubbs and bordering Maxson Hill Road.
John Mancini, the attorney representing the developer, summed up the categories that needed further clarification before the next meeting: “Landscaping, which includes the screening and the buffering, the inspection process, both during construction and after construction is complete, drainage review and inspections to include an independent engineer, and finally, the mechanism for the containment of fluids.”
Project engineer David Russo explained the changes that had been made to the plan in response to Planning Board concerns and also as a result of an independent peer review of the plan by Crossman Engineering, a firm chosen by the town.
Major changes include the elimination of a planned access road, allowing the perimeter fence to be moved closer to the array and farther from the road. Trees will be left in one section of the property, creating a wildlife corridor. Russo said the developer would also try to mitigate a pre-existing drainage problem on Maxson Hill Road.
Bruce Reynolds, whose property abuts the project, said he dealt with ongoing runoff issues, and was concerned that clearing thousands of trees would exacerbate the problem.
“Your buffer zone leaves my well only 80 feet from where you’re going to start clearing,” he said. “What’s going to stop this from getting into my well?
Russo said runoff mitigation measures for the solar facility would have the effect of fixing Reynolds’ problem.
“What we’re proposing in this area will actually capture that water,” he said, pointing at a retention pond in the plan. “What this is, is a big holding area, so that will prevent the water from going onto your property.”
Another neighbor, Justin Bentley, said he still believed that removing the trees would create more runoff.
“I am just expressing major reservations,” he said. “I’m not an engineer. I trust their expertise, and I know they can perform calculations, but to remove such a significant number of the sponges, of the trees in that area, I just want to express that I have lived there for 20 years and it’s very wet.”
Kevin Alverson, the project’s landscape architect, described enhanced tree and shrub buffers, with more plants placed closer together to create a thicker screen. Most of the vegetation along Maxson Hill Road, he said, would remain untouched. The developer will also pay for an independent review of the plantings by a landscape architect chosen by the town.
Board Chair Alfred DiOrio said he was pleased with the changes and with the independent review. “I will admit that my concerns are dramatically softened by this idea of having an independent review of the project after the installation of the vegetation,” he said.
Nicole Mulaphany, a project manager with Sage Environmental, a consulting firm hired by the developer, discussed the new plans for a wildlife corridor.
“It’s opened up so there is that corridor between the east and west side of the lot that really is beneficial from the wildlife perspective,” she said
As the proposal moves through the town’s approval process, a group of residents has launched a court action to try to stop it altogether.
In January, 14 residents filed a complaint in Washington County Superior Court against the town, several present and former Town Council members, the developer and the property owner, seeking a declaratory judgment to have amendments to the comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance declared null and void because of procedural irregularities and other actions on the part of the town.
Also at issue is the council’s decision to grant initial approval to the application despite a recommendation from the Planning Board to deny it. The case had not yet been heard.