A long-simmering application to construct the Town of Gardiner’s first commercial solar farm, at 262 Libertyville Road right on the New Paltz border, took a significant step toward reality at the April 27 Planning Board meeting. Satisfied at last with a plan by applicant Lumens Holdings 3, LLC to improve grassland bird habitat on the undeveloped part of the 9.8-acre site, the Planning Board issued a negative declaration on the project’s State Environmental Quality Review, meaning that no significant environmental impact is anticipated.
Several approvals from interested agencies that had been holding up progress on the application fell into place. A letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on potential bald eagle habitat noted that there were two known eagle nests within a mile of the site, but that nesting should not be disrupted as long as the developer operates high-decibel equipment such as pile-drivers only during the period from October through December. Lumens Holdings’ engineering consultant, Bryan Bayer, said that they plan to use helical anchors for the solar array structure in any case.
Questions regarding the site’s stormwater protection plan, which would impact New Paltz as well as Gardiner, were also laid to rest. The New York State Historic Preservation Office weighed in on the possibility of archaeological sites being disturbed, concluding that there are none likely to exist on the acreage in question and requiring no further surveys. And the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has default jurisdiction over the wetlands on the property and was informed about the project, has not exercised its option to require a permit for building the access road to the site, which would include installation of a new culvert.
With regard to concerns raised by several Planning Board members about the parcel being situated in an area identified as important bird-nesting habitat, their consultant, Sterling Environmental Engineering, PC, reported that the site’s “current condition does not provide ideal grassland bird habitat,” with former meadow transitioning to scrubland due to lack of upkeep. Moreover, the consultant wrote that the applicant’s updated Wildlife Management Plan “identifies active management practices” that would actually improve grassland conditions in the 6.2 acres of the site that will not be covered with solar panels.
The project’s most vocal skeptic with regard to bird habitat issues, Marc Moran, declared himself satisfied with the tweaks that Lumens had made. “The revised Wildlife Management Plan is well-done. It addressed the concerns that I raised,” Moran said.
That left Carol Richman as the sole holdout to vote against the “neg dec.” While acknowledging that the revised plan was “very thorough,” she argued, “This has been pushed through using the applicant’s information… I would like to see an independent review done.” Richman once again raised a Town of New Paltz study that proposed that adjacent acreage be designated as a Critical Environmental Area. “The Town of New Paltz developed the Field of Dreams, and more recently built soccer fields on that land, disregarding their own study,” Planning Board chair Paul Colucci pointed out.
The next step is for Lumens’ application to come before the Gardiner Town Board for consideration of a Special Use Permit. Should that be approved, the Planning Board will then commence site plan review.