By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The Grand Island Town Board set a public hearing for a special use permit application to build what one council member called the biggest solar farm in the state.
SolarPark Energy LLC wants to build a solar array on at 1611 Whitehaven Road. In voting 5-0 to set the public hearing for Monday, June 18, at 8 p.m., the board also referred the solar array project to the town's Planning Board and Conservation Advisory Board.
Though he supported holding a public hearing on the application, Councilman Mike Madigan made no secret about where he stands on the project itself.
"I can't emphasize enough. I walked around this 42 acres. This will be the biggest solar farm in New York state," Madigan said. "The biggest. It will take up a lot of the current remaining green space on Grand Island. Not all of it, but a portion, 42 acres."
He described the proposed site as marshy, loaded with cattails and water fowl.
"What they ultimately will be doing is they will be clear-cutting that 42 acres," Madigan said of the applicants.
"I don't think it's a good thing for our green space, but others may disagree," Madigan said. He noted solar projects are allowed in a wetland.
Councilwoman Bev Kinney countered that the applicants are not proposing to clear-cut all 42 acres, but said they are using "just scruff," and not cutting mature trees. The area would have a buffer zone and fencing that would still allow animals access.
Councilwoman Jennifer Baney said, "We see even within our board varying views on this, and it brings to mind our master plan process that we're involved in. That can definitely be a component, when we build a master plan and we talk about land use and purpose."
She advised citizens who have views on solar arrays to look at the master plan and provide feedback to the town.
"So bring it up, comment on it, look through our master plan and see what it says," Baney said.
Madigan later said with some exceptions, the acreage would be "wall to wall panels, under which will be pollinators, which is a nice way to say a dead zone that will not be very attractive to wildlife."
Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray replied, "I'm excited about the solar project going forward on Grand Island. We have an opportunity - if the projects all come to fruition, in addition to the efforts of Ms. Baney and Ms. Kinney - we will be able to create the energy here locally for as much as 60 percent of the energy needs in the Town of Grand Island through solar power, which is an amazing thing."
He pointed out the projects must go through both the Conservation Advisory Board and Planning Board.
"As in the past when we passed our solar law, (when) we approved other projects, scrutiny will be applied at all levels," McMurray said. "I'm looking forward to seeing that review process done."