Appeal filed against board’s approval of large-scale solar project in Northfield

  • This site rendering created by BlueWave Solar shows where three future solar arrays will be located off of Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. CONTRIBUTED IMAGE/BLUEWAVE SOLAR

  • Nathan L’Etoile stands in front of the field that will house Solar Array B, facing east off Pine Meadow Road in Northfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/ZACK DELUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 9/8/2021 7:11:01 PM

NORTHFIELD — A complaint filed in Franklin County Superior Court on Wednesday requests the court overturn three permits issued by the Northfield Planning Board for solar arrays to be built along Pine Meadow Road.

The appeal was filed by Northfield resident Christopher Kalinowski, an abutter to the project who is named as a plaintiff alongside “RESTORE: The North Woods,” a nonprofit membership organization registered with a place of business in Lincoln. Defendants named in the complaint include the Delaware-based BlueWave Project Development LLC, property owners Bonnie and Eugene L’Etoile and Hopping Ahead LLC, and the Northfield Planning Board.

In July, after eight months of discussion and three public hearing sessions, the Planning Board approved conditions for special permits for the three solar arrays. In total, the project is estimated to cost $20 million for construction and will consist of about 76 acres of solar arrays installed across the three tracts of land owned by the L’Etoile family and Hopping Ahead LLC.

“Array A,” the largest of the three arrays at roughly 26 acres, capable of generating 6 megawatts of power, will be located north along Pine Meadow Road, beyond Riverview Road. “Array B” is capable of generating 4.3 megawatts and will be located across from the Four Star Farms main building. A third, small array, “Array C,” will be on the Connecticut River side of Pine Meadow Road and will generate approximately half a megawatt of power.

Speaking to the Greenfield Recorder via phone on Wednesday, Kalinowski said he had spoken during multiple Planning Board meetings in the public hearing process, but he felt BlueWave Solar “kind of talked around every question” that he and other residents had, and that the board inadequately addressed these concerns.

“Really, my biggest concern is we can’t keep losing valuable farmland,” Kalinowski said. “Big developers keep reaching out to farmland owners because it’s convenient. There’s no trees, no rocks and it’s flat. And it’s hard for farmers to say no when they’re offered a lot of money.

“I’m not against solar in any such form, but I’m against where they’re putting it,” he said. “They’re robbing valuable farmland. The land next to the Connecticut River has some of the best soil in the country. We can’t lose that to a solar field.”

Planning Board Chair Stephen Seredynski said he was made aware of the appeal Wednesday morning but didn’t have a chance to read the document in full before speaking with the Recorder. He noted that Wednesday was the final day for an appeal to have been filed with the town.

“I looked over the complaint. I haven’t looked in depth, but I don’t agree with the complaints,” Seredynski said. “I feel the Planning Board took extreme pains to make legally defensible decisions. We even hired an expert consultant over the course of eight months to assist us in the process.”

Seredynski said he would need to read the document in full before commenting further, and intends to consult with legal counsel regarding the process for responding to the appeal.

The plaintiffs claim the project should be prohibited based on town bylaws restricting large-scale ground-mounted solar installations on more than 5 acres to Northfield’s designated Solar Overlay District. The complaint also states that Section 5 of the town zoning bylaw prohibits the project in the zoned Residential/Agricultural District near the Connecticut River and abutting residences.

The complaint alleges the Planning Board “failed to adequately consider the agricultural value of the project site and long-term impacts of the loss of viable farmland.”

Board members acknowledged during the public hearing process that this was an “industrial-size project,” but noted it would be located in an agricultural/residential zone, and “by being dual-use solar, there is a quantity of agriculture.”

Landowners Bonnie and Eugene L’Etoile also stated in April that the parcel of land was chosen for the project because another 100 acres of their property — specifically land closer to the Connecticut River — is conserved under an Agricultural Preservation Restriction and cannot be used for such development.

As an agricultural dual-use solar project, the land under the solar panels will be leased by the L’Etoiles to Jesse Robertson-DuBois of Finicky Farm as pasture for goats and sheep. Under “post-construction” conditions approved by the Planning Board, the project owner will be required to document the continued agricultural use of the property on an annual basis.

Kalinowski, who resides on Pine Meadow Road abutting the project, said he will personally suffer harm from the project, including but not limited to substantial diminution in his property’s value, light pollution or glare, aesthetic impacts and loss of scenery, and risk of contamination of his private drinking water.

According to the complaint, RESTORE has members who live, work and reside in or visit Northfield for recreation, and they are similarly concerned with the impact of the project. They raise concerns that the project “poses a present or potential hazard to human health, safety, welfare and the environment,” including a potential loss of biodiversity and contamination of the Connecticut River from construction, as well as “the sitting and use of lithium-ion batteries that may experience thermal runaway resulting in discharge of toxic chemicals to soil and groundwater.”

The appeal additionally claims the special permits are unlawful as the Planning Board “unlawfully allowed the project to be segmented for permitting purposes, which resulted in the failure to consider the project as a whole.” It also alleges the board lacked adequate information pertaining to issues such as the archeological impacts of the project, decommissioning surety, impacts on the Connecticut River and priority habitat areas, and more.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.




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