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United States: Hearing continues on solar farm plan

Published at: Feb 17, 2012
source: myCentralJersey.com

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No resolution has been reached during a hearing for a proposed 9.5MW Solar Farm in New Jersey, which would be built by KDC Solar. The solar farm would supply 25% of the energy consumed by the ImClone building but expert testimonies have expressed various concerns about the project. The hearing is set to resume on March 21.

BRANCHBURG - Hearings before the township's Board of Adjustment concerning a proposed 9.5-megawatt solar farm on Route 202, across from the ImClone campus, continued Wednesday night, but no resolution was reached.

The solar farm, which would be built by KDC Solar, would be used to produce about 25 percent of the electricity needs of the ImClone building. Power cables bringing the power to ImClone would be laid under the highway.

The hearing will resume on March 21.

Expert testimony from the applicant's witnesses Wednesday night included issues surrounding visual screening of the solar panels, which will be 7 feet high, why variances were being sought for setbacks, whether construction of a berm was practical before the county decides whether or not to extend a road through the property and why a solar array on the site might be a better use of the land than the uses for which it is zoned: office space, laboratory space or agricultural use. The land has been cultivated as farmland for some time, and it is bisected by a ravine created by a tributary of Holland Brook, making it difficult to conform to the 10-acre zoning required for a commercial construction project in this zone.

The site is next to land already owned by Branchburg Township as preserved Green Acre space. There are two underground gas pipelines, a transcontinental pipeline and the Algonquin pipeline, as well as high-voltage power lines, that come through that land. The homeowners who appear to be most affected by the construction of the solar farm live along Woodside Lane, to the northwest of the proposed solar farm, on the other side of the township land.

In an interview before the meeting, Woodside Lane resident Nolan Hampton explained he and his neighbors have maintained the township land for many years as continuations of their own backyards, and some have had storage sheds on the property. Now the town is making them move the sheds. But more importantly, these residents have, at their own expense, removed fallen trees over the years.

"We live on the prairie," Hampton said. "The winds that come through here can be quite fierce. We've seen a lot of trees blow down on the town land, and the town doesn't maintain it. So we've paid out of our own pockets to have the fallen trees removed."

His neighbor, Donna Campanaro, confirmed this, also in an interview before the meeting. She also said that because the land there is very wet, the soft ground contributes to the trees' instability.

"Each of us along this side of Woodside Lane has had to remove at least two trees in the last eight years," she said. "We've done this at our own expense. Frankly, I didn't even realize the trees were on town land; I thought they were in my backyard."

Neighbors may have been relieved to hear at the meeting that the plan for the site no longer includes so many trees. The landscape architect for the project, Evan Stone of T&M Associates, has a plan for saving and reusing the cedars now growing on the site, which everyone seems to agree would have a good chance of surviving if handled with care.

As for other screening material, a new plan was introduced last night. Township planner Michael Sullivan said "shrubs would be a dinner bell for the deer in the area." So Stone's plan calls for a "meadow mixture" of tall grasses to combine with the cedars and two other species of evergreens, as well as deciduous trees. The original plan called for the applicants to maintain the trees for two years after they were planted. But board member Thomas Lembrich suggested that because very young seedlings will be planted, it would be better to have the applicants maintain the trees for three years. Sullivan concurred and the applicants' attorney, James Clarkin III, had no objection.


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