RICHMOND — After months of complaints from an abutting homeowner, officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Town of Richmond toured the Kingstown 1 and 2 solar arrays to determine whether the developer had taken the necessary measures to control runoff from the site.
With the new controls now in place, only a sustained, heavy rain will reveal whether or not the additional measures are effective.
On the tour with Eric Beck, DEM chief of groundwater and wetlands protection, were Richmond Town Planner Juliana Berry and town zoning official Russell “Bo” Brown.
Berry said Tuesday’s storms had been a preliminary test, but she was waiting to see what a long, heavy rain, expected on the weekend, would do to the site.
“It was a smaller scale rain event,” she said. “It wasn’t sustained. I think, looking at the forecast, there will be a better test.”
The solar array covers approximately 23 acres of John and Cindy Duncan’s Harvest Acres Farm on Kingstown Road (Route 138). A wetland separates the installation into two sections, which are known as Kingstown, or “K,” 1 and 2.
Designed and built by Green Development LLC of North Kingstown, the project consists of more than 17,000 panels and received town approval in April 2017. It has been operating since January.
The easternmost array, K 2, abuts the back yard of property owned by Richard and Carol Jurczyk of 5 Heaton Orchard Road, who began to experience serious runoff problems in mid-January. During heavy rain, water flowed off the bare ground beneath the solar array, transforming the Jurczyks’ yard into a pond and pooling on Heaton Orchard Road.
In a March 30 letter to the Duncans, Martin Wencek of DEM’s Department of Water Resources found the K 2 section of the project to be in “significant nonconformance” because proper best management practices to control sediment and runoff had not been installed or implemented.
On Wednesday, Beck toured the site with several of the developer’s representatives and took photographs of new runoff controls, which include three large infiltration basins to collect water and slow runoff. Changes have also been made to the grading of the site so water doesn’t run downhill onto the Jurczyks’ property.
While DEM biologists have visited the site many times, this was Beck’s first look at the project.
“We walked the perimeter, we looked at the controls that they’ve installed,” he said. “I looked at the process they’re using now to stabilize the site, which is ongoing, and how they’re keeping records of that so we don’t have continuing issues.”
Beck said he wanted to focus on the K 2 array, because it borders the Jurczyks’ land.
“I focused in on this half, because I was mostly concerned about the discharge points and the impact to the private property and the roadway system,” he said, referring to Heaton Orchard Road.
Beck asked the developer’s representatives how the site would be when all the work was completed.
“I said ‘I want to know how this is going to work when you’re all done. I want to know where water goes when you’re done, because you’re at that stage where there’s not a lot more grading to do,’” he said.
Stabilizing the site will happen more quickly now that warm weather has arrived, encouraging the growth of vegetation. The ground under the panels will be seeded in the coming days with a special plant mixture for solar arrays that Green Energy says is also pollinator-friendly.
Sediment is no longer leaving the site and sections of a wetland buffer that had been damaged during construction have been replanted.
Beck said Green Energy’s biggest miscalculation was failing to plan for site stabilization over the winter.
“It’s not too uncommon to have challenges in wintertime,” Beck said. “I feel that the initial response on this site could have been better. I feel what they’re doing now, if they’d done it a few months ago, would have been great. I feel that what they’ve done now is excellent…I think what’s going to happen when they’re done is absolutely address the volume issue for Mr. Jurczyk.”
For his part, Jurczyk, who walked his property line with Beck, said he was hoping that the runoff problem had been resolved.
“Cautiously optimistic,” he said. “At the beginning, I wasn’t optimistic at all, but if what they did works the way they say it will work, and it looks like it could, I’m happy.”