RICHMOND — Opponents of Hopkinton’s latest proposed solar energy project had their chance to address the council at length during a continued public hearing Monday at Chariho Middle School.
In an effort to give residents ample opportunity to express their opinions, the Town Council had scheduled Monday’s hearing, the third on the project, and moved it to the middle school to accommodate everyone who wished to speak. Approximately 60 residents attended the hearing.
Rhode Island Solar Renewable Energy III LLC, of Cranston, is proposing to build a 13.75 AC-megawatt array on three lots — one at 350 Woodville Alton Road, another at 6 Townsend Road, and a third on an adjacent site that was used as the town landfill and, later, a private dump.
The project would require zoning and comprehensive plan amendments from “residential” to “commercial special.”
Many residents of Old Depot Road and other neighborhoods near the site have objected to the plan, which would require the clearing of several thousand trees. Stormwater runoff and flooding are additional concerns.
But equally important, residents argue, is the approval process itself, which they say is flawed, because the developer presented hours of testimony by paid expert witnesses while residents have not been afforded the same opportunity. The opponents of the project have formed a group to ensure that there is more citizen input.
Steven Wiehl, of 11 Old Depot Road, told the council that residents felt they had not received adequate notice of the proposed project.
“Quite frankly, the perception is that this was going to be conducted in a quick way, votes were going to be taken and this project was going to be approved and moved on from, right from the get-go,” he said.
Wiehl also questioned remarks by council members at a previous hearing indicating that they supported the project and had, therefore, made up their minds before the hearings had even concluded.
“It’s kind of odd, here we are only at the second meeting (July 2) and yet we have council members who are already defining their positions, when we as a community haven’t even had the time to voice our concerns,” he said. “That troubled many of us deeply.”
As developer Anthony Del Vicario and his attorney looked on, Old Depot Road resident Joe Moreau questioned Del Vicario’s business record and suggested the council look into his dealings more closely.
“If you’re hiring a contractor, you check that person out,” he said.
Councilor Barbara Capalbo explained that the town does not do background checks unless the contractor is proposing to do work for the town.
“I respectfully disagree,” Moreau said. “We’re talking about a $35 million project and the liability the town could possibly have in the future. I certainly would want to know if we have the right person doing the job.”
Sharon Davis, who will fill one of two vacant council seats in November, read a long list of approved and pending solar energy projects and asked the council to declare a moratorium on approving zoning changes for new projects until it has considered several amendments to the existing solar ordinance.
“Institute a moratorium on approving solar projects requiring residential zoning changes until the Planning Board’s recent amendments to Hopkinton’s solar ordinance have been reviewed and approved by the Town Council,” she said.
The solar ordinance amendments, the result of consultations between the council and the Planning Board, will be considered at an upcoming council meeting. However, Town Solicitor Kevin McAllister cautioned that projects already in the approval process would not be impacted by any ordinance changes.
Moreau and others reminded the council that the issue was about more than a single neighborhood.
“Some council members are just looking at the dollars for the town,” he said. “The residents are the town. We’re all part of the town. This guy’s going to move on … We are the residents of the town and our job is to convince some of you to do the right thing."