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NT Common Council passes solar moratorium

Fri, Jun 25th 2021 11:20 am

Botanical Gardens to apply for grant funds for parking lot repair

By Michael DePietro

Tribune Editor

Following a public hearing last week, the North Tonawanda Common Council unanimously passed a six-month moratorium on applications, approvals and/or construction or installation on solar energy systems/and or solar farms in the city. Officials said the period will give the council the time and ability “to complete all reasonable and necessary review, study analysis and, if warranted, revision to the City of North Tonawanda Zoning Code as may be necessary to promote and preserve the health, safety and welfare of the City of North Tonawanda and its citizens.”

The approval was made during a special session during the council's biweekly workshop session.

The move comes as the Town of Wheatfield explores installing a ground-mounted solar facility at the disused Witmer Road dump site. Since it borders North Tonawanda, which currently has no solar law on its books, guidelines related to property value and assessment would be deferred to New York state’s rules and regulations. Council President Robert Pecoraro said the town would rather avoid that.

“As a municipality, (we) need to protect ourselves from the overreach of the governor and New York state, by dictating to us what it is we do, how we do it and when we do it. That's why we did the law, so that we rule our own destiny when it comes to solar energy systems and or solar farms,” he said.

A late communication item was also introduced and approved during the special session from the Parks and Recreation Department allowing the North Tonawanda Botanical Garden to seek a $100,000 NYS DEC EJ grant for its parking lot remediation project.

The Botanical Garden’s Dave Conti explained plans are part of a larger green infrastructure project for the garden. He said, in March, plans were originally to do the project in one go, which would have included parking lot repairs, a newly installed boat launch, and remediations to deal with runoff going into the canal. However, that one-shot, holistic plan was scrapped for being too ambitious and too expensive. It was decided to handle the parking lot as phase one, but that was scrapped when initial project estimates came in totaling over $1.6 million.

Since then, Conti said the department has scaled the parking lot repairs further to a more manageable starting point and recently applied for $200,000 in funding from the Tonawanda Coke Environmental Benefit Fund, which would be used for the north end of the parking lot near the greenhouse. He explained the department had initially applied for a GIGP (stormwater infrastructure) grant but withdrew, as it wasn’t “fiscally or financially ready” at that time.

Conti said a major goal of the project is to see its completion without using any city funds.

“The DEC allows us to hold concurrent grants,” Conti explained. “This is good for all of us involved because there's no matching funds involved with this. … We crunched some numbers and we looked at the middle section of the parking lot and we realized that the grant max of $100,000 for this particular grant, it will probably cover that center loop. And when I say center loop, I'm talking about from the entrance driveways right straight down to the boat launch.

"So, with all that said, I would like to keep this rolling, realizing back when we pulled the plug on the GIGP grant we knew we had a number of about $1.6 million to do that entire parking lot. And we also knew that the very best we were going to do was get 90% of that covered, which would mean $160,000 match.

“So, we're trying to accomplish this whole thing in smaller bites with zero funds.”

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