2017-05-25 / Front Page

Bridge authority back to original solar site

BY TIM RIEL

The town councilors met in executive session Monday night to discuss the bridge authority’s interest in revisiting the Taylor Point site for its solar array.

No action was taken, according to Town Administrator Andy Nota. He said the next step is to meet with Buddy Croft, executive director of the Rhode Island Turnpike and Bridge Authority. From there, he said, it depends on the authority’s actions.

Monday’s meeting came in the wake of a feasibility study that concluded the land abutting the Dutra farm was not feasible for the solar project. The bridge authority owns both sites.

Kirt Maylind, a project manager for Altus Power, delivered the report at the council’s May 15 meeting. The Connecticut firm, which is partnering with the bridge authority on the project, said the connection cost was too expensive to relocate the array from East Shore Road to Mercy Weeden Lane. The alternate site along Route 138 eastbound was suggested by a contingency of conservationists that objected to the Taylor Point site. Among their concerns, the townspeople said clear-cutting the native forest would remove the natural sound buffer from the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge provided by the trees.

With the alternative Dutra site off the table, the bridge authority wants to revisit the original location, chief engineer Eric Offenberg told the councilors at the meeting two weeks ago. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, however, recommended an executive session to discuss the legal ramifications, which led to Monday’s meeting.

“You need to make some policy decisions,” Ruggiero said

The agency already has permits to build at the original site, which is located near the police station at the western foot of the Pell Bridge. The only reason work has not broken ground is because the council has not given its blessing. The state already ruled local zoning approval is not necessary, but Croft said he wants to be a good neighbor and has delayed the project’s start while the alternative site was being discussed. Instead of beginning construction in the winter as planned, the agency has hosted open houses, led walking tours and designed a landscaping plan that would spruce up the intersection of Conanicus Avenue and East Shore Road.

During those brainstorming sessions, Croft said the agency received valuable feedback. However, none panned out.

“There were some terrific suggestions,” he said. “We did our best to address those.”

“We’ve addressed every comment,” Offenberg said. “We spent our time, our money and our resources.”

Still, the councilors have heeded concerns from their constituents. “The location you’re proposing is seriously problematic,” Councilwoman Mary Meagher said at the May 15 meeting.

While it’s not known whether a lawsuit is looming or the council will give its permission, both sides agree the town’s outdated electrical grid is a major concern. That is the main reason the Dutra site is not feasible.

“National Grid does not want to upgrade the system until they absolutely have to or unless Mother Nature helps them out a bit,” Nota said. “We are missing out on potentially great opportunities.”

Another option would be for the two sides to ignore the state’s ruling and have the bridge agency endure the town’s typical zoning process.

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