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Town Board outlines $1.5 million community benefit agreement as part of solar company’s special permit approval

Riverhead Town officials are planning to use about $1.5 million in money from a “community benefit agreement” to make various improvements to beaches, parks, open space and farmland preservation, and emergency services and other town functions.  

The Town Board discussed the proposal at its work session Tuesday, which was held earlier in the week due to Thanksgiving. 

The community benefit agreement would be paid by LI Solar Generation — also known as Nextera — as a condition of the Town Board approving a special permit application for the proposed 22.9-megawatt commercial solar energy production facility on 197 acres off River Road and Edwards Avenue in Calverton. 

Nextera will also need site plan approval from the Planning Board. 

The Town Board is expected to approve Nextera’s special permit on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

According to Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, the community benefit agreement will include the following:

• A $350,000 payment to the town for the creation and/or improvement of parks, beaches, and recreational facilities, senior and adult projects and nonprofit outreach programs.

• A $250,000 payment to the town for protection, preservation and enhancement and maintenance of the functional integrity of the Peconic River, Long Island Sound and Pine Barrens ecosystem.

• A $250,000 payment for preservation of farmland, open space, undeveloped beach lands or shorelines, and establishment or improvement of nature preserves.

• A $350,000 payment to the town for promotion and enhancement of police, fire and emergency medical response plans for training related to the police, fire and ambulance emergency response to fires, toxic fumes and chemical hazards related to renewable energy, solar sources of fires and/or hazardous events.

Included in that total are a $100,000 payment for police emergency response equipment or infrastructure; A $100,000 payment split four ways to the four fire districts in the town; a $150,000 payment to the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps for an ambulance and a rescue vehicle and $70,000 for paramedic training; and payments of $10,000 each to Peconic Bay Medical Center ambulance and the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance training. 

• A $150,000 payment to the Riverhead School District for advancement in education with the goals of coordinating efforts with the schools, library and cable and internet providers to provide financial assistance or Wi-Fi study locations for students who don’t have access to the internet or any leadership or career building partnerships or internships.

• And $150,000 for job promotion, enhancement and development along with job training.

“As far as money given to the police, fire and ambulance, it’s money we couldn’t give them had this not come through,” said Councilman Tim Hubbard.

He said the county has cut training funds for paramedics, which can cost about $12,000 per person. This money will ensure that paramedics will be on duty 24/7, he said. 

“The community needs to know that we will help them in any way we know how and that this money is going right back to the community,” Ms. Aguiar said.

The Town Board also discussed the project at last Thursday’s work session when it agreed to grant a 30-year term for its special permit.

The board discussed at length several outstanding issues related to the special permit, including whether to stick with the standard of 20 years or grant the applicant’s request for 30 years.

The board was split over how to proceed, and ultimately decided on 30 years after Ms. Aguiar, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio and Councilman Frank Beyrodt formed a majority opinion.

Mr. Hubbard said he felt the agreement should be for 20 years with an option to revisit for five-year extensions. Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she supported keeping it at 20 years.

Mr. Beyrodt, after initially appearing against the 30-year term, said he thought it would be advantageous for the applicant to have the option to revisit in 20 years, but agreed to support the longer term.

NextEra’s attorney, Steven Losquadro, said the state’s mandate for utilities to increase renewable energy makes the project viable for the long term.

“I do think the 30-year extension request is appropriate,” he said.

Ms. Kent said with 660 acres of solar coming into Riverhead Town, “we are more than doing our share for the state for renewable energy.” She added that the technology could be different after 20 years.

Mr. Hubbard said the state’s mandate does not require a large cluster of solar all in the Calverton and Baiting Hollow area.

Ms. Giglio cautioned that she could envision a scenario in 20 years, at which point EPCAL is further developed, where a developer would propose an industrial park at the site.

“To me, with what’s being discussed right now as far as traffic concerns and everything within the 11933 ZIP code, I think that solar is the least impacting on the community as far as build-out,” she said.

While agreeing to the 30-year term, the Town Board added a caveat on another outstanding item related to a decommissioning plan and bond that’s required for a commercial solar energy system of more than 10 acres.

The applicant submitted a decommissioning estimate of approximately $1.12 million.

The Town Board agreed to require the applicant to revisit the decommissioning costs at 20 years following when the certificate of occupancy is issued.

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz, responding to concerns raised over whether NextEra or another company owns the property years from now, said the zoning issue is specifically for the use, not the user.

“We keep going down that rabbit hole,” he said.

Mr. Losquadro agreed that revisiting the decommissioning costs could be beneficial for all the parties.

Another separate issue for the site plan, Mr. Losquadro said the applicant would be willing to work on an easement around the western solar parcel to facilitate an extension of the EPCAL bike trail. 

He said questions of construction, funding and grants would fall on the town.

“We recognize that this is an additional benefit beyond the significant benefits that have already been negotiated that would benefit the residents of the town,” Mr. Losquadro said.