By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
After a member of the town's Conservation Advisory Board pointed out the environmental downside of a proposed green energy project, the Grand Island Town Board tabled approval of an applicant's special use permit request.
During Monday's Town Board meeting, the council held two public hearings regarding special use permit applications from Kristen Savard, on behalf of Active Solar Development LLC, of Galway, New York, who are seeking authorization for installation of a major solar system array in an M-1 zoning district located at 126 Industrial Drive and 2411 Bedell Road.
The board voted in two split decisions to give more thought to the application after Ron Rezabek made comments during the public hearing critical of the project.
Prefacing his remarks with the comment that he supports green energy, Rezabek, a member of the Conservation Advisory Board, said, "The project as it's designed is an environmental abortion. It denudes 18 acres of land of trees, shrubs and other vegetation. It removes all carbon footprint of the area. Once it does that, it provides a clear path for I-190 pollutants to attack the east side of Grand Island."
He called the 190 "the largest single source of pollution on Grand Island." and he recommended that the project should include a natural buffer, or what he called a "pollution control mechanism" such as a hedgerow, to block the exhaust and noise. He did not recommend a man-made wall such as those that line interstates because "they look kind of hideous."
Over Supervisor Nathan McMurray's objection, the board voted 4-1 to table the first special use permit application so that they could take Rezabek's points under advisement.
McMurray pointed out that the project is located in an M-1 (industrial) zoning district. He later called the solar project "the largest community solar plan in New York state." He said the town's recently enacted solar law, which preceded the application, has been praised by the Sierra Club. He claimed the proposal is "a zero-emissions project."
Though the solar project was approved by the town's Planning Board, it was not taken under consideration by the Conservation Advisory Board, which Town Board members considered an oversight.
The Town Board will take up the matter June 19 when it meets next. The CAB, which meets on the fourth Thursday of the month, was not scheduled to meet again until June 22. The CAB met in what one member called an emergency meeting Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the home of another board member.
Speaking on behalf of the applicant, Kristen Savard of Advanced Design Group said the comments made by Rezabek were stated at the Planning Board meeting when that board discussed the project. She said two Conservation Advisory Board members were present at the Planning Board meeting.
"What was discussed that evening is that there is no precedent along the corridor of the 190 to establish that vegetation is required," Savard said, adding that in her experience with other projects, no such vegetation is required along the buffer. "Whether or not that is acceptable to the Conservation Board is a precedent," she said.
Savard noted the project is in an M-1 zone "and completely meets the zoning." She said if there is a question of pollutants, that is a matter to be undertaken in the zoning law.
Councilwoman Beverly Kinney, who joined with McMurray in voting against tabling the second permit, said the solar project had the least amount of impact on the environment of all possible projects allowed in an M-1 district.
Frank McCleneghen, president of Active Solar, spoke at the meeting and said a natural barrier too high would impact the solar resource and could be cost prohibitive to the project.
Councilman Mike Madigan said he was sensitive to the project's timeline, but that the public hearing before the Town Board was the first time the people had a chance to voice their concerns. He said if no new information had been presented during the hearing, the board would likely have passed the permit request that night.
Diane Evans, the chairwoman of the Conservation Advisory Board and speaking for herself as one voting member, said she would like to see the project move forward without delay.
Councilman Chris Aronica was adamant that the board keep its two-week deadline and decide on the matter at its next meeting.