NEWBURY — “When you see the cows, you know you’re home,” Marlene Schroeder told selectmen at the continuation of a special permit hearing to allow a solar array on privately owned farmland on Scotland Road.
Schroeder was quoting the late Hack Pramberg, former president of the Institution for Savings in Newburyport and “enthusiastic local booster,” as a way to stress the economic value of the area in which the proposed solar installation is sited — and the negative impact on public welfare she feels the project would have on a spot referred to as “the gateway” into Newbury and Newburyport.
The 72-acre farm, owned by Gene and Donna Pikul, is part of a parcel known as the Common Pasture, a rural swath of land that has remained relatively unchanged for over 300 years.
Tuesday’s hearing ran for 65 minutes, and attendance, though slightly less than at the previous two sessions of this public hearing, still filled Town Hall. Ultimately, selectmen closed the hearing and plan to publicly deliberate the proposal — which calls for installing 14,040 solar panels on 15 acres of the Pikul Farm — at their next meeting on April 23.
Although statutorily selectmen now have 90 days to decide whether to issue the requested permit, the board is operating under a shorter, self-imposed deadline because of looming town elections at the end of the month.
The special permit process requires a super majority vote of the board, but with incumbent Chuck Bear facing a challenge from Mike Doyle on the ballot on April 30, there’s a chance he might not be available to vote on the issue after the town election. And Chairman Joe Story has recused himself throughout the hearing to avoid an appearance of conflict of interest because he is working on a similar proposal on property he owns.
Town Counsel Ginny Kremer said there is a provision for when a voting member is unable to see the pubic hearing process through to the end — due to a death or unforeseen circumstance — but she was not certain it would apply in this case. It might turn out the entire hearing process, which began on March 12, would have to start anew.