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November 17, 2020

Solar project developers say they’d preserve land for later farm use

Image | Contributed Gravel Pit Solar's panel arrays would span nearly 500 acres in East Windsor, ending to the south just shy of the South Windsor border.

A spokeswoman for the proposed Gravel Pit Solar project in East Windsor says developers have a plan to implement innovative soil restoration and preservation measures throughout the facility to improve soil quality.

The comments come in response to the Hartford Business Journal’s report that state agriculture officials oppose the project due to its impact on the state’s shrinking supply of farmland.

The Connecticut Siting Council on Thursday held an evidentiary and public hearing for the proposed 120-megawatt project on 485 acres across several sites between Apothecaries Hill Road and the south side of Plantation Road. Developers applied in July for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need.

According to Meaghan Wims, spokeswoman for the project, energy projects larger than 65 megawatts are required to seek a certificate.

Wims said Gravel Pit Solar has submitted a soil-preservation plan as part of its application “so that the site can be returned to row crop agriculture at the end of project operations.”

If approved, the project would become the largest solar development in the Northeast.

Only two people commented during Thursday’s public hearing, both in favor of the project.

Robert Urso, a South Windsor resident, said the development is going in the right direction in terms of green energy.

Doug King, a resident of Rye Street in East Windsor, said he believes most people in town back the project.

“I think a lot of people would rather see this project than housing or any other kind of development that could happen. I think we support the project in any way we can,” he said.

In a letter to the council, First Selectman Jason E. Bowsza said the project has the town’s full support.

“The project as proposed is large in scale and scope, and East Windsor is traditionally an agricultural community, but that does not mean that the proposed project is an incompatible use of the site,” he wrote.

A part of the site has been a tobacco farm for many year, but the owners already had decided to shut down that portion of their farm because the tobacco industry is no longer as profitable as it once was, Bowsza said.

He also noted that Gravel Pit Solar has “indicated an interest in fostering pollinator habitat on the property and possible sheep grazing during the active life of the project.”

“East Windsor has a growing beekeeping community, and the expansive habitat in close proximity will help that community continue to thrive. At the end of the project’s useful life, and after decommissioning, much of the property will be able to be returned to agricultural production,” he said, citing the soil-preservation plan.

Speaking before the start of the public hearing, Bowsza praised Gravel Pit Solar developer Aaron Svedlow and his staff for being cooperative and communicative since talks of the project began almost a year ago.

“They have repeatedly accepted the offers to come to various land boards in town and to the Board of Selectmen to give updates on the project,” Bowsza said. “I don’t think there has been an issue raised by our Planning and Zoning Commission, or by our Wetlands Commission that hasn’t been addressed by the folks at Gravel Pit Solar.”

Wims said developers have been working closely with the town, relevant state agencies, and abutters to develop the project in a manner that minimizes and avoids impacts to sensitive natural resources while providing significant benefits to the host community.

“One benefit of the project that we’ve heard mentioned repeatedly by abutting property owners, is that closing the gravel mines will reduce dust, noise, and truck traffic, and by fencing the properties we will reduce prohibited ATV activity that has become a nuisance to neighbors,” Wims said.

The Siting Council scheduled a second evidentiary hearing for Dec 1.

Gravel Pit Solar developers are anticipating approval from the council early in 2021 and if approved is expected to start construction in the summer, Wims said.

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