HOPKINTON — A standing-room-only crowd of angry residents packed the council chambers Monday to voice their frustration about the Maxson Hill solar energy project and commercial solar facilities in general.
To the horror of abutting property owners, Green Development, which is building the Maxson Hill project on a 139-acre site at 145 Maxson Hill Road, recently began clearing trees from the parcel and has removed vegetation to within 10 feet of neighboring residences.
Members of the Town Council sat quietly as people took advantage of the public forum portion of the council meeting to express their anger and their fear that the town was unable to control and regulate the solar developers, who, they feel, are profoundly changing their town.
Despite council President Frank Landolfi’s request that people limit their comments to five minutes each, many spoke for considerably longer.
Resident Tim Ward asked the council whether the current solar projects were providing sufficient revenue to allow the town to stop approving additional projects.
“Do we have a plan moving forward for how much is enough for solar as far as our budgetary needs and so on,” he asked. “… I’m curious if we now have a plan.”
“As far as I know, we do not,” councilor Barbara Capalbo responded.
A group of residents has taken legal action to try to stop the project on the grounds that the council acted improperly when it approved zoning and comprehensive plan changes to allow its construction. Some people wondered how the project could proceed with the court case pending.
Town Planner James Lamphere answered questions regarding the developer’s use of Maxson Hill Road for its logging trucks rather than Route 3, as had been previously agreed upon. Lamphere said he, Landolfi, Town Manager William McGarry and an official from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management had met with Green Development to determine whether the large logging trucks could take an alternate route.
“We immediately convened a meeting with the developer, went over the plans and we searched for alternate pathways by which all the truck traffic could be contained on the site,” he said. “We found an existing farm road. It’s been there for a long time. It’s lined on both sides with stone walls, so it’s not something that was fabricated yesterday…The observation from DEM was that this road could be modified on a temporary basis such that truck traffic could enter and exit the site and take everything out on Route 3.”
One resident wanted the town to stop the developer from using Maxson Hill Road until the alternate route is ready.
“They should wait until they have access that’s approved,” he said.
“Make them stop," another resident added.
Lamphere promised that he would continue to keep a close eye on the developer and on all activities at the site, but some said they feared that the town was overwhelmed by the flood of solar projects.
“We’re in over our heads,” Ward said.
Another resident suggested the town name a subcommittee of solar energy experts who could advise the town on large solar applications.
One woman told the council that she had lost faith in the permitting process.
“You have to understand that there could be huge ramifications,” she told the council. “Nobody, in my opinion, unless you can tell me differently, is an expert and knows about runoff …. None of these solar developers cares about this town. They care about the money.
"There are a lot of people who have allowed this to happen, and those people have to go to bed at night and those people have to close their eyes and think what you have done.”
Lamphere said he would approach the developer and ask whether he could stop using Maxson Hill Road while work on the alternate road is completed.
“I will request, tomorrow, that the developer refrain from any truck traffic on Maxson Hill Road until that farm road is back in business,” he said. “… Believe me when I tell you, this project will be scrutinized very well.”