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Proposed solar project in Calverton takes step forward, but additional hurdles remain

A 22.9-megawatt solar energy farm proposed for 197 acres off Edwards Avenue and River Road in Calverton took a step forward at Tuesday’s Riverhead Town Board meeting — but just barely. 

NextEra Energy’s proposed Calverton Solar Energy Center received a negative declaration — meaning it won’t need to prepare and file additional environmental impact studies. The Town Board voted 3-2, with Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilwoman Catherine Kent voting no. Councilman Tim Hubbard voted yes but said he is opposed to additional solar farms in Calverton, although he voted against requiring additional impact studies. 

Upon casting his vote, Mr. Hubbard said it does not mean he supports the project.

The project still needs site plan approval and a special permit approval from the Town Board. If Mr. Hubbard votes no on either of those, and Ms. Aguiar and Ms. Kent don’t change their votes, the project will not move forward.  

Ms. Aguiar said the town needs to do an assessment of all the solar projects planned for or already built in Calverton. Ms. Kent said she felt an impact study should have been done from the start, and believes the cumulative impact of all the proposed and constructed solar farms should be evaluated.

There are more than 650 acres in Calverton that have proposed or recently built solar farms on them. 

Jeff Murphree, the town’s building and planning administrator, said his department did study the cumulative effects of all the solar farms in Calverton, and found that they would not have an adverse environmental impact.

Several Calverton residents argued that NextEra should have given a public presentation to the Greater Calverton Civic Association before the Town Board voted on the negative declaration issue. 

Board members said a hearing will be required for the special permit application. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, several union representatives said the solar fields would create hundreds of construction jobs. But project opponents countered that it would create almost no permanent jobs.

Ed Graham of Manorville said the existing Calverton Sports Park, which would be replaced by the solar farm, creates more jobs and brings in people from outside the area.