BRANDON — Those in charge of a water line running under a field where a solar project might be built told the project’s neighbors they’ll do what they can to protect the line.
The Prudential Committee for Brandon Fire District #1 met Wednesday and heard from those opposed to the Babcock Solar project.
Babcock Solar LLC, a subsidiary of Conti Solar, has filed for a certificate of public good with the Public Utility Commission to build a 2.2-megawatt solar array at the intersection of Park Street Extension and 21 Country Club Road.
The project has been controversial since it was announced last year. Opponents have raised concerns about its impacts on views, the environment and other issues including a water line that runs beneath it.
“I would hope that your No. 1 focus, and your only focus, would be protecting that water line,” said Jonathan Blake, who owns 850 Park Street. “I, personally, would propose a minimum 50-foot right of way at all times so you can access it and maintain that water line for repair.”
He said there’s no question that at some point that section of pipe will have to be accessed and repaired.
“Our No. 1 goal is to protect the water line,” said Ray Counter, water superintendent for Brandon Fire District #1. “And that’s been my focus, so we have asked our engineer, Otter Creek Engineering, to work with us and to come up with a recommendation of things that we should require. We have had some discussions. It has not yet been finalized. The right of way is one of those points of discussion that we’ve had. We do hear you, and we are focused on protecting the water line.”
Residents made it clear they wanted the Prudential Committee to oppose the solar project and do nothing to accommodate it.
“It seems to me if there’s such a problem with the water why would you approve the construction of a solar farm there?” asked Ettie Spezzano, resident of County Club Road. “And why are we as Brandon taxpayers looking for a way to help them get their solar farm? I would think that’s their responsibility if it’s their solar farm.”
Various committee members clarified that the role of the committee isn’t to approve or deny projects, only to protect its infrastructure.
“Anytime a water line goes across private property, it’s not our job to deny everything that comes down the road, be it an industrial park or a highway, or a residential development, or anything else,” said Tom Whittaker, Prudential Committee member. “What is our responsibility, is to do what is prudent as far as maintaining our protection of the water line and ensuring the service will be maintained for the town. That’s our obligation, not to deny something. If we can accommodate it we may as well accommodate it regardless of what it is.”
In Vermont, power projects such as solar developments are overseen by the Public Utility Commission. Towns and other entities can be party to the proceedings, but the PUC’s authority, by and large, overrules that of local governments.
Counter said he would reach out to the PUC to learn what the fire district’s rights and responsibilities are and report back to the committee, which will decide what actions to take.
Cindy Hill, attorney representing Robert and Kathryn Clark, Blake and Country Club Townhomes Owners’ Association Inc., said she has filed a motion with the PUC to have the Brandon Fire District #1 be given notice of the project and told how to participate.
Hill has filed a number of motions with the PUC on behalf of her clients, most of them pertaining to their status as intervenors.
On Tuesday, according to the PUC’s website, she filed a motion asking the PUC to require the developer to mark with flags certain aspects of the project’s design, including the location of the water line, ahead of a public site visit and hearing on Nov. 19.
Counter was asked by Blake if Conti has said or promised anything that would ease concerns about the line’s safety.
“I can’t go into details specifically on what we’d talked about, but access was one of them, protection of the water main during construction; we had proposed putting isolation valves on either side of the field, so if there was a problem we could isolate the line so everybody could remain in water service and then we wouldn’t have that issue with fire suppression, getting in there and being able to do a repair if you had to,” Counter said. “There is a lot to it. It’s not an answer that just happens.”
Hill said it’s possible that if the fire district were to become involved it could get its conditions included in the PUC’s certificate of public good, making those conditions enforceable. She said the district might also ask the PUC to require the developer reimburse the district for expenses incurred from working with this project.
The PUC has released a notice of a public hearing on the project to be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at Brandon Town Hall, 49 Center St. There will be an informational session before that at 6:30 p.m.