WESTERLY — Plans for an 800-kilowatt solar power array envisioned for Frontage Road are moving forward now that they have received another round of approval from the Planning Board.
The board voted unanimously Wednesday to render preliminary plan approval of Centrica Business Solutions' plans for a solar array on 6.35 acres of a 42-acre lot owned by Salvatore Scavello. The board's approval signals its acceptance of an environmental resource assessment of the property that the board requested in August.
Parts of the property are designated as being a natural heritage area, according to a memorandum from Town Planner Nancy E. Letendre and Principal Planner Alyse Oziolor. The designation is given by the state to areas where endangered species of wildlife and flora are present.
Scavello's property was given the state designation because it consists of habitat for two rare plant species: greater poverty rush, a state-listed species of concern, and common yellow flax, a state-listed threatened species. Neither of the two known listed species in the area were observed onsite when it was inspected by a botanist, but a different state-threatened plant species, hairy small-leaved tick-trefoil, was observed.
The botanist, Charles Eiseman, found that minor losses of a few plants would not result in significant impacts to the population due to the number of plants onsite. Eiseman, who was hired as a consultant by ESS Group Inc., the East Providence environmental engineering firm working on the project, recommended avoiding disturbance of the plants as much as possible and to avoid long-term loss of the population, and recommended that the site be mowed only once per year in the spring to avoid disturbance during the flowering or fruiting season, which occurs in the fall.
In addition to the ground-mounted solar arrays and related equipment, six new utility poles will be erected as part of the project. A 6-foot-tall security fence at least 20 feet away from the array will also be installed. Board members asked that the fence completely encircle the site rather than keeping one side open as originally planned.
The company is required to develop a decommissioning plan and post a financial bond with the town as a condition of approval.
Pinnacle Holdings LLC, an unrelated company, is building a medical marijuana growing facility on a different part of the same Frontage Road lot.
In other business, the board unanimously granted preliminary plan approval for Quarry Hill Properties LLC's plans for a mini-storage facility at 61 Ledward Ave. The board had previously held off on final consideration of the plans and instead asked that a Phase II environmental assessment be conducted on the property, which currently includes an auto body repair shop.
On Wednesday, Anthony Nenna, of On-Site Engineering Inc., the project engineer, said the environmental study conducted since the board made its request confirmed earlier findings of limited soil "staining."
"The soil samples and ground water had no contamination outside of the state Department of Environmental Management limits that would become harmful to public health," Nenna said.
A memorandum from Oziolor casts doubt on the followup environmental study, saying it involved taking samples from the same areas that were originally tested and that it was described as a Phase I study. Board member Christopher Lawlor noted the discrepancy. "There are questions about whether it was a Phase II," Lawlor said.
Letendre said Town Engineer Kyle Zalaski, who originally raised concerns about possible contamination of the site, was now satisfied that the contamination was limited to "localized" parts of the property.
As a condition of approval, the board asked that Quarry Hill Properties LLC ask the Zoning Board of Review to reconsider its requirement that the company plant 12- to 15-foot-tall trees along the street facing a portion of the property. Board members said the trees would cause sight-line problems for drivers and could be a hazard for pedestrians. Planning Board members said they preferred the use of Empire arborvitae, which they said do not grow taller than about 6 feet.