Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz, who is retiring at the end of this month, is slated to receive a pay increase of just over $9,000, under a resolution on the town board's agenda Tuesday. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead town officials responded to criticism of their participation in the application process for the Solar 2 project in Calverton during yesterday’s work session.

The town was criticized at last Wednesday’s town board meeting by former Councilwoman Barbara Blass, who spoke out on the town’s lack of comment on the 36-megawatt 275-acre solar energy facility project off Edwards Avenue in Calverton. (See previous article.) Blass took issue with the town’s lack of written comment, lack of active participation in the hearing and lack of public discussion amongst the town board on the project’s draft permit, issued for pubic comment in early March.

The State Office of Renewable Energy siting approved a final permit for the Solar 2 facility on June 25. (See previous article.) The office was created by a new law enacted last March (Article 94-C),  to fast-track the approval of large renewable energy projects that generate over 25 megawatts of electricity. Prior to that, large energy projects were reviewed by a different state agency under Public Service Law Article 10, which had an extensive and lengthy review process.

Riverhead Solar 2 began a pre-application process under Article 10 in 2017. When ORES was created, the applicant decided to transfer its application to ORES for review under 94-C.  

Speaking to residents during the work session yesterday, Town Attorney Robert Kozakiewicz said he felt deeply offended and felt his professionalism and integrity were attacked by Blass’ comments last week.

“In my opinion, as a general observation, much of what was said was said to create the idea that they were stated as facts, when in fact, there’s a great deal of opinion,” Kozakiewicz said.

Kozakiewicz said Blass’ comments neglected the town’s participation in  the Article 10 process. Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree submitted extensive comments during the Article 10 “scoping” process, which established the scope of issues to be addressed in the project application.  The applicant responded to the town’s comments — and the comments of other agencies — in November 2018. Murphree was not available today to discuss  whether the town’s comments during the Article 10 scoping process were addressed by the permit approved by ORES last month.

“What I wanted to show is that, to simply disregard that Article 10 process and say that we were seriously mis-treated or not properly represented is, I think, wrong,” Kozakiewicz said yesterday, citing the conversations he had with the developers previously.

He read from the ORES final permit, which states that the permit is “supported by the extensive record compiled in the Public Service Law Article 10.”

He said there’s been a lot of “doom and gloom” and “Chicken Little type comments.”

Riverhead planning and building administrator Jefferson Murphree at a November 2018 public hearing. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Murphree yesterday presented a summary of the application, in which he said the application was the most “exhaustive” and “comprehensive” application that he has seen in his career. He said there is no adverse impact on the surrounding area, including on the environment, wetlands and water quality. 

“The public hearing was not the final chapter in the town’s review of the pending application,” Murphree said. “The planning department, the town attorney’s office and the assessor’s office are continuously working with them and the community and will continue to do so with this application. We take the issues and concerns raised by the community very seriously.”

“If there was a critical issue that was identified through my review, throughout the review of this application, I would have identified it a long time ago,” Murphree said.

After Murphee concluded his summary, Councilwoman Catherine Kent said there was a necessity to move forward, but called the presentation from Kozakiewicz and Murphree a “tap dance and a spin.” She said the town should have weighed in as the host community.

“People from our town [government] should have been weighing in for the sake of the residents,” Kent said. “We needed to make a statement to protect our community, to protect the people of Calverton. This is the largest solar project coming in. We didn’t weigh in and now today people are telling me that that’s okay? That’s not okay.”

Councilman Ken Rothwell said that Kent could have spoken about the project and brought it up during a meeting. “I just don’t think it’s fair to say we missed it or to put the blame on the attorney department or the building department when any one of us could use any one of these work sessions or town meetings to reach out and voice out our concerns,” Rothwell said.

“Actually, I have often spoken up about the solar, but we couldn’t weigh in when this was not brought to a work session,” Kent said. “This is exactly why things need to be discussed at work sessions.”

Also at the meeting was Mike Farrell, the director of development for AES, the developer of the Solar projects. He said he echoes Murphree and Kozakiewicz’s comments.

Although Blass, who did not attend yesterday’s work session,  was not present in the meeting, she said in an interview today that she stands by her July 7 statement to the board and that “the facts speak for themselves” regarding the town’s absence from the 94-C process. 

In response to Kozakiewicz’s comments on the town’s participation in Article 10, Blass said the comments were old and part of a process that the application was well past.

“I would like to have had a document from the town that said they reviewed [potential concerns] and it was their determination on behalf of the residents of the town of Riverhead that all things were considered,” Blass said.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the next step for the Solar 2 project is passing a community benefit agreement and payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. She said a draft of the agreements would be brought up during work sessions in the near future.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]