NEW BRITAIN — The Siting Council has set March 31 for a field review, hearing and public comment concerning a reopened application for a 15.3-megawatt, 75-acre solar array project on 117 Oil Mill Road in Waterford.
Melanie Bachman, executive director of the council, led a pre-hearing conference at the Siting Council offices on Tuesday for a revised proposal by GRE Gacrux LLC, an affiliate of Middletown-based Greenskies Renewable Energy LLC.
In 2018, the council rejected a larger version of the project, a 16-megawatt, 98-acre array with 55,692 panels. The revised proposal is to construct 45,976 panels on the site.
The council voted to reopen the petition on Feb 27, following a request from Greenskies “based on changed conditions” submitted on Jan. 23.
Attorney Lee Hoffman, of Pullman & Comley in Hartford, who represented Greenskies at the pre-hearing, encouraged the public to carpool to the field review, scheduled for 1:30 p.,m. on March 31, because the logging road on the site has little available parking.
“As few cars as we can have on the property, the better just for parking purposes,” he said.
Abby Piersall, director of planning for the Town of Waterford, who attended the pre-hearing, said the public could park at town hall and carpool to the site.
After the field review, the council will hold an evidentiary session at Waterford Town Hall Auditorium from 3 to 5 p.m. that will “provide the petitioner, parties and intervenors an opportunity to introduce exhibits and witnesses and cross-examine positions,” according to the pre-hearing memo.
According to Bachman, all testimony must be filed by March 24, one week prior to the hearing.
“Just so everyone is on the same page, we do not allow direct testimony at our hearings,” she said. “All testimony is to be pre-filed in writing in advance by March 24.”
Bachman explained that the March 31 hearing will offer the opportunity to for cross-examination.
Robert Mercier, a siting analyst for the council at the pre-hearing, said that it is likely that the hearing will be continued to a later date.
Public comment is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 31, preceded by a brief presentation of the project by Greenskies, including diagrams already submitted into the record.
State regulations stipulate that members of nonprofits with intervenor status, which in this case includes Save the River – Save the Hills, “are deemed to be represented in the proceeding and may not submit oral or written statements into the record,” according to the pre-hearing memo.
“There are close to 400 members of Save the River-Save the Hills. If an individual wants to speak at the public hearing and they’re not on my board, are they allowed to speak?” asked Deb Moshier-Dunn, vice president of Save the River-Save the Hills, who attended the meeting by phone.
Bachman answered that if the individual is a member of an organization with intervenor status, he or she will not be allowed to speak.
“Party status gives the organization representation beyond that of any member of the public, meaning that you have opportunities to submit exhibits, you have opportunities to cross-examine all of the proceeding participants and you can draft briefs and findings of fact,” said Bachman.
“So the entire membership of Save the River-Save the Hills is represented by the party.”
After the hearing, a verbatim transcript of the hearing will be available to the public at the Waterford Town Clerk’s office.
Within 30 days after the close of the hearing, parties and intervenors “will be allowed to submit briefs and proposed findings of fact” and the public will be allowed to submit written statements into the record. The close of the public record will be on April 30.
At the beginning of the meeting, Bachman said all of the dates could change because of the state’s precautions concerning the spread of the Coronavirus.
“In the event that anything changes, i will give everyone notice as early as I possibly can but given the circumstances I’m not sure how much time we will have, but we will manage,” she said.
The petition to reopen the project can be found here.