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Riverhead could receive $1.5 million in solar deal

Riverhead Town could receive a financial boost to the tune of $1.5 million as part of a community benefit agreement proposed for a new solar facility planned in Calverton.

At a work session Thursday, officials outlined a potential breakdown of the payments that would be received from L.I. Solar Generation and NextEra, the company seeking a special permit to build a 22.9-megawatt solar array on 197 acres off Edwards Avenue and River Road in Calverton.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said the company has proposed the $1.5 million payment be split into two payments: the first received within 30 days of special permit approval, which is still pending before the Town Board, and the next due when a certificate of occupancy is issued.

The funding would be channeled into four areas: $400,000 each for agriculture and open space, environmental initiatives, community health and recreation; and an additional $300,000 for an education and employment fund, he said.

According to Mr. Kozakiewicz, the town seeks to use the benefit funds to address “things we see being impacted or adversely impacted” by the project. The employment initiative, for example, preempts the loss of future jobs. “We’re taking a parcel that will result in a lot of job creation to get built, but when it’s constructed there’s not going to be a lot of job creation,” he explained.

Town Board members identified several priority areas during Thursday’s discussion, including a recommendation from supervisor Yvette Aguiar to ensure funding is set aside for additional training that may be required for local firefighters, EMTs and police officers due to increased risk.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio also continued to advocate for a 25% percent portion of the property that solar cannot be built on to be dedicated to the town as an extension of the town’s recreational park at the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

During a public hearing on the special permit last month, Greater Calverton Civic Association president Toqui Terchun asked if that was something the town would consider. “It looks as though there’s quite a bit of area available, open space if you will, on this property that could afford perhaps to be a little bit more dedicated to our surrounding community,” she said. 

Ms. Giglio noted that such a dedication or easement could be included in the benefit agreement and said during Thursday’s work session that she’d continue to work with town planning staff to determine what area the 25% would cover, including space for a buffer area.

Language in the proposed agreement may also be amended to require the second installment be paid prior to the issuance of a CO, rather than after. “If payment is due after we issue the CO, it’s not going to be made,” Ms. Aguiar said.

The supervisor also pitched using funds to cover COVID-19 related costs, including the need to support residents with services, supporting nonprofit organizations and even helping the library and school district meet pandemic-related needs.

“Kids were forced into virtual learning,” Ms. Aguiar said, noting that some may face problems accessing the Internet during hybrid learning.

Though supportive of the idea, Ms. Giglio pointed out that both the library and school district are separate taxing entities and Mr. Kozakiewicz said he’d look into the idea further.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent also asked that funds be allocated for the recreation department in order to continue maintaining parks and other resources.

“People are pushed to do more things outside and our parks are more important than ever,” she said.

Ms. Kent asked for the board to hold an additional work session discussion next week to address outstanding issues regarding the community benefit agreement.

“I think we’re close,” she said, to reaching a consensus.

But Ms. Aguiar argued that the continued discussion will lengthen the administrative process, inviting Ms. Kent to discuss the matter offline. 

“The public has weighed in,” she said. “It’s been lingering way too long. Put it behind us — we need to move forward.”

Ms. Kent said she’d rather finish the discussion during a public session. “It affects everybody,” she said.

The delay in voting on the special permit hinged on the terms of the community benefit agreement being ironed out. At a public hearing Oct. 20, Councilman Tim Hubbard said he’d like to know the details of the agreement before moving forward.

Mr. Hubbard said Thursday that he was pleased to see the payment-per-megawatt in the proposed agreement will be more than a 2019 agreement with sPower that brought $1 million to the town.

“You know my feelings on solar, but if we’re going to have it, we might as well get the most we can out of it,” he said.

The Town Board closed a public hearing on the special permit application Oct. 30 and Mr. Kozakiewicz said the Town Board faces a 62-day deadline to make a decision. The board would also need to authorize a resolution approving the community benefit agreement.