NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

April 17, 2014

Proposed solar project ignites criticism

ConCom will take closer look at plan for 70-130 greenhouses on Scotland Road

NEWBURY — A proposed solar project on Pikul Farm will require a closer review for possible environmental impacts, the Conservation Commission determined this week.

At a public hearing on Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a positive determination of applicability for the project, which proposes to install between 70 and 130 greenhouses with solar panel rooftops on the southern-most portion of the 71-acre farm on Scotland Road owned by Gene and Donna Pikul. Each greenhouse would be at least 3,900 square feet.

Marlene Schroeder and 12 other petitioners submitted the Request for Determination application on March 10. The Pikuls were not present at the public hearing and could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Last year the commission accepted a proposed plan to install a 3-megawatt solar array on 16 acres of the Pikul Farm, but the project stalled when the Board of Selectmen refused to issue a special permit after several well-attended public hearings.

The Pikuls appealed the decision, but apparently took no further action when the Department of Environmental Protection raised questions about the impact shading from the solar panels would have on more than 5,000 square feet of bordering vegetated wetlands on the property. To date, the DEP has issued no finding.

Speaking on behalf of Schroeder and the other applicants, Tracy Peter of Peter Environmental Consulting argued on Tuesday that this type of large-scale project located within a wetlands “should require more than a cursory review.”

Peter began by identifying what she described as a wet meadow on the Pikul property. The Environmental Protection Agency defines a wet meadow as a marsh — often resembling grassland — located in an area of poor drainage. For most of the year the wet meadow is without standing water, but still the soil remains saturated.

Agricultural activities that occur within an identified water or wetland resource area, or the associated 100-foot buffer zone, are subject to regulations under the state’s Wetland Protection Act (WPA). Peter identified seven resource areas that exist on the 71-acre parcel, mostly associated with the Little River.

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