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A public hearing on the site plan of a new proposed commercial solar energy facility in Calverton has been set for March 4.

The Riverhead Planning Board scheduled the hearing at its meeting Thursday afternoon, which was held via Zoom videoconference after Town Hall was closed due to inclement winter weather.

The decision to set the hearing on the site plan application of L.I. Solar Generation was made over the objection of Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey. Carey said the planning board should first gain input from the town board before moving forward, because of new information received by the planning board that “static mast” towers at the substation on the property would be 45 feet tall.

The environmental assessment form submitted by the applicant in September 2018 stated that the tallest structure on the site would be 11 feet in height.

Details about the height of the mast and substation came to light this month when the applicant submitted revised drawings in response to questions from planning department staff.

In addition to the height of the poles, which took the planners by surprise, the substation itself will be 22 to 26 feet tall, planning aide Greg Bergman told board members. Bergman suggested that the substation be relocated to a point about 350 feet off the road, to minimize visual impacts.

The substation on the site is proposed to be set back approximately 80 feet from Edwards Avenue, he said. The locations of the substation and the masts were depicted on the original site plan drawings dated Jan. 10, 2019, but the height of the structures was not indicated.

Representatives of L.I. Solar Generation, a joint venture of NextEra Energy and National Grid, said relocating the substation would be an unreasonable burden, as it would mean starting the design from scratch.

“It would be a completely new project,” said NextEra project manager Michael Dowling. “We would have to move every solar panel,” he said. “Moving that substation is really not feasible.”

Bill Boer of NextEra said although the masts are depicted as 45 feet tall, they will actually be 40 feet tall. The masts, he said, is like other utility poles on Edwards Avenue. It would not have a major visual impact for people in vehicles passing by at 30-40 mph, he said. Relocating it further off the road would make it more visible to occupants of residences on Edwards Avenue, and that would have a greater visual impact, Boer said.

“An eyesore is still an eyesore at 30 mph or 40 mph,” planning board member George Nunnaro said.

The applicant agreed provide a rendering to show what the substation and static mast poles will look like from Edwards Avenue.

The planning board chairman said since the applicant’s environmental assessment form stated the tallest structure was only 11 feet tall, the town board should be asked to look at this again.

The town board, over the initial objection of the planning board, took lead agency status in the application review and determined that the State Environmental Quality Review Act did not require an environmental impact statement for the project. The town board issued a negative declaration under SEQRA, and subsequently approved a special permit for the facility. But their decision was based on the information in the applicant’s environmental assessment form, which was inaccurate, Carey said.

“I think planning staff should touch base with the town board,” Carey said. “Are they ok with the height of the poles? And would that have changed their thinking on this?”

The applicant’s attorney, Stephen Losquadro, said, “There was not an intent to hide something or omit something. This has been an extraordinarily well-vetted process over a period of years. The EAF that was in the context of building space and this is not a building,” Losquadro said. “It was not an effort to conceal.”

The board voted 4-1, with Carey voting no, to schedule the public hearing, despite the outstanding questions. Since the time before the March 4 hearing date does not allow for publication in the print newspaper of record, a weekly paper, the board agreed to allow publication of the notice in Newsday to suffice.

Losquadro told the planning board Thursday he had already made arrangements for the publication in Newsday.

L.I. Solar Generation’s Calverton Solar Center is a 22.9 MW solar energy production facility planned for approximately 198 acres off Edwards Avenue in Calverton. It would be the will the fourth large-scale commercial solar energy facility in the Calverton hamlet. A fifth, the 36-megawatt Riverhead Solar 2, which is being advanced by sPower, is pending before a state review board. The facilities are all located in the vicinity of a LIPA substation on the east side of Edwards Avenue. They will all tie into the substation to feed the power they produce into the LIPA grid.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.