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Virtual public hearing set on NextEra’s solar plan in Calverton

NextEra’s proposal to build a 22.9-megawatt commercial solar farm on 197 acres in Calverton will be the subject of a virtual public hearing before the Riverhead Town Planning Board at 7 p.m. Thursday. 

The proposal calls for construction of a commercial solar energy production facility, consisting of solar collection panels, underground transmission lines, a 34.5-138 kV transformer, landscaping, road, grading and drainage improvements.

But speakers at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting said the applicant has added new information that was not included in the plan when the Town Board voted to approve a special permit for the project in December. 

Former councilwoman Barbara Blass said the Town Board must rescind its approval of that special permit  and its issuing of a negative declaration for the project last year, which determined  that the proposal would not have significant adverse environmental impacts.

“New information has recently surfaced which brings those decisions into question,” Ms. Blass said. The applicant has submitted drawings showing 40-foot high static masts and other new elements that were not included in the application the Town Board voted on. (The Town Board has jurisdiction over the special permit applicant while the Planning Board has jurisdiction over the site plan.)

Those plans were submitted on Feb. 21, but have existed since August 2018 and were modified in November 2019, yet were not released until two and a half years later, after the Town Board’s negative declaration, Ms. Blass said. 

“This is new information and it needs to be evaluated completely to determine the potential for significant negative visual impact,” she said. 

Also released last month was an easement agreement signed in September 2019 by NextEra, sPower and Westbury Properties. sPower also has several large solar farms either proposed or built adjacent to NextEra. 

The cumulative impacts of these projects were never analyzed by this board prior to its State Environmental Quality Review Act declaration, Ms. Blass said.

“What she said is pretty correct,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said of Ms. Blass’ comments. “They now have gone before the Planning Board and they are showing different things from what we were presented with.”

Mr. Hubbard feels the Town Board will need to “take a look at it again.”

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar disagreed. 

“This is before the Planning Board and I’m going to have confidence in the planning right to decide what they do,” she said. “This is actually their responsibility.”

Councilwoman Catherine Kent said she’s been watching Planning Board meetings and feels “they are asking the tough questions.”

Toqui Terchun, president of the Greater Calverton Civic Association, questioned if it would be proper to hold the hearing because the public hasn’t had a chance to “digest” the new information long enough.