The Plympton Planning Board held three hearings on Monday, October 28 for the development of three separate solar arrays. Planning Board members present were Chair Ann Sobolewski, Paul J. D’Angelo, John Schmid, and newest member Jay Cohen.
Selectmen John Traynor and Mark Russo were also in attendance.
The first was a continuation of the hearing for the Harju solar panel project located on a 113-acre lot belonging to Gary Harju at 0 and 37 Lake St. The land is currently used for cranberry bogs and is zoned agricultural.
The proposed project is a ground mounted array split between the northern and southern portion of the lot near the Kingston/Plympton town line. A single purpose LLC was created to lease the land.
Plympton’s consulting engineer John Chessia, who reviews the projects and submits a response letter, was on hand. Project Manager Sarah Stearns of Beals + Thomas was there to present on behalf of Harju Solar Array and respond to questions from the public as well as items noted in Chessia’s letter. Other members of the team present included professional engineer Eric Las, project attorney Greg Sampson, and Pat Jackson from the solar development company SunRaise Investments.
Of note during the discussions was the section of the bylaws that require trees and plantings used for screening to be 8ft high. Stearns explained that they were looking to plant native species that would thrive in their location with minimal maintenance and that initially they would be 5-7 ft tall. An abutter to the property present at the meeting asked Stearns for reassurance that the plantings would eventually reach 8 ft. Sobolewski recommended aiming for 6-7 ft tall plantings that would eventually reach or surpass the 8 ft marker. Stearns explained that the reason for not initially going with 8ft plants was that the size of the root balls would cause greater disturbance to the surroundings. “And I do commend you for providing the variety of plants and for taking our comments on that into consideration and for looking for things that are attractive and beneficial and would provide evergreen screening. That’s something that I think the neighbors are looking for and we’re certainly appreciative that that level of thought went into it,” Sobolewski said.
Also discussed was the way in which the areas that needed it would be cleared. Stearns said that they would bring in a tree specialist to determine the best technique for clearing whether that be the small track vehicles, drop and drag by hand with a chain-saw, or via a crane. Stearns also alluded to the myriad trails on the property saying that they may be able to utilize those to get to the area without a lot of disturbance.
Gary Harju spoke to his neighbors saying, “Many years ago there was going to be a thirty-house subdivision and we bought that piece of property so we wouldn’t have thirty houses on that cranberry bog at the time. It would have been all developed already had we not bought it and it cost us a good deal of money to get it. But all this time everybody in the world has enjoyed it and whatnot; like you said there’s trails all through it from everybody using it.”
As the principal engineer on the project, Las disagreed with some of the requirements and requests made by Chessia in his response letter saying that they also do peer reviews and that the requests made did not appear to him to be consistent with design standards. Las questioned Chessia as to his current responsibilities and probed him to find out how many solar projects he had designed. Upon Mr. Chessia’s response that he had designed only one ground mounted solar project and that yes, he mostly does reviews, Las said, “Thank you for that context.” As pointed out by the Planning Board, however, all solar projects that come before the Board are held to the same requirements and level of scrutiny. The continuation of the hearing is scheduled for November 25 at 7 p.m.
The second public hearing was for a proposed solar array at 0 Main St. and the public turnout, mostly from abutters, was considerable. Evan Watson, the project engineer with Prime Engineering Inc. was present as well as attorney Greg Sampson. The landowner, Larry Harju, planned to utilize bogs he constructed in the past that aren’t performing well anymore for the large-scale ground mounted solar facility between Mayflower Rd. and Main St. Like the earlier hearing, the proposed project is not dual use as cranberry operation will be abandoned where the solar panels are to be placed.
As with the earlier project, adequate screening was a major concern for the abutters in attendance, most of them residents of Mayflower Rd. Sobolewski added that plantings used for screening must be sufficient not just in the spring and summer but in the winter as well. Abutters also asked that the fence included in the plan be something attractive. Another resident shared her concerns that her property would become flooded as a result of the project. Watson assured those in attendance that his proposal meets the 10 stormwater standards for MA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
Another resident questioned why the particular portion of the lot was chosen and was given two explanations 1.) the bogs selected grow a variety of cranberries no longer in demand and 2.) The Wetlands Protection Act make a large portion of the land off-limits for this kind of development.
Schmid shared his feelings that it was a shame to deforest for solar power. Larry Harju explained his predicament to his neighbors saying, “We are looking at this because we need another income not because we are fat cats rolling in it.”
It was agreed by all parties that a site walk would be necessary. Neighbors and others can walk the proposed site and discuss the plans for things such as screening. The site walk for this site is scheduled for 10 a.m. on November 16. A continuation of the hearing was scheduled for November 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Vice President at Atlantic Design Engineers, Inc. Richard Tabaczynski presented at the third and final hearing about a proposed dual use solar facility/cranberry bogs at 0 Prospect St. on behalf of landowner Richard Johnson. The site is near the Middleboro/Carver town line. Tabaczynski informed the Board that he had filed with the Conservation Commission and a hearing was scheduled in November. The land in question is zoned agricultural/residential and totals 41 acres.
Because the proposed plan is for a dual use facility, no fence can be erected as it would impede the cranberry production. Again, abutters in attendance were concerned with not being able to see the solar facility from their homes, particularly from the second floor or higher. The abutters’ homes in this case are located on a 90 ft hill, making it difficult, if not impossible, for those in attendance to imagine a scenario in which screening could be provided that would block their view of the facility. A site visit was scheduled for November 9 at 10 a.m.
Many in attendance, including those who had lived at their current residence for 25 years, claimed that Johnson hasn’t harvested cranberries in quite some time. Given that the proposed plan is for a dual use facility, abutters wanted to know if it would be possible to shut down the operation if it was proven that they were not working cranberry bogs.
Tabaczynski said that there was a plan to re-instate the bog use at the same time as the solar panel installation. It came out during the course of discussion that a solar panel facility cannot be placed on wetlands unless it is considered dual use with the cranberry bogs.
Those in attendance were concerned that Johnson was attempting to use a loophole to work around the restrictions placed on wetlands.
A continuation for the hearing is scheduled for Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.