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Future of proposed solar farm in Calverton stirs debate

The Riverhead Town Board on Wednesday backed off a plan to declare a “negative declaration” for a proposed 191-acre solar farm in Calverton, a move that would have removed the requirement for an environmental impact study of the project.

The board’s three Republican council members, Jodi Giglio, Tim Hubbard and Jim Wooten, had called for the special meeting Wednesday to vote on allowing the Town Board to be the lead agency in the review of Calverton Solar Energy System’s application for a site plan and special permit for 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility at 149 Edwards Ave. and River Road in Calverton, and to declare the negative declaration.

The board’s two Democrats, Councilwoman Catherine Kent and Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, both opposed the resolution calling for the special meeting.

Ms. Jens-Smith said that necessary information for the application was not completed until the end of October.

“I don’t think we should be railroading this through,” Ms. Kent said.

The project is facing a Nov. 17 deadline from LIPA, according to Ms. Giglio. She accused the supervisor of stalling the project, something Ms. Jens-Smith denied. Ms. Giglio told audience members that the resolution being voted on was not to approve the project.

The project is partially located on the former Calverton Links golf course, and is one of several large solar projects either approved or under review in the Edwards Avenue area.

After hearing from some residents who criticized the process and the lack of information on it, and questioned why the project was being rushed, Mr. Hubbard suggested that the resolution be postponed to a future meeting, and the full board agreed.

Ed Graham, founder of RiverheadMagazine.com and owner of a website titled “Stop the Solar Farms in Calverton,” said that solar panels contain cadmium and lead, and are water soluble, meaning that when it rains, contaminants are carried into the groundwater.

He urged the board to reject the project and said the state currently has no plan in place on how to dispose of the panels after they are doing being used.

Former Councilwoman Barbara Blass said the information provided to the public on the application was lacking.

“I’m delighted that you have chosen to consider tabling this, because, quite honestly, it was not ready for prime time,” she said.

Until yesterday, none of the documentation was online, she said.

“The public is supposed to be included in this process,” she said. “Why are we continually discouraged and excluded from this process?” she said.

Ms. Blass said body of the resolution wasn’t on the town website, and it doesn’t say the acreage of the project or how many solar panels were being proposed.

Ms. Blass said there also are a number of questions that are unanswered by the proposal, such as the potential health concerns caused by the project.

Dean Del Prete, who leases land on the site for Calverton Sports Park, said that “the people that go there don’t want solar panels.”

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