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Fire Departments Oppose South Ripley Solar Project

RIPLEY — Members of fire departments who frequently assist the Ripley Hose Co. have expressed their opposition to the proposed South Ripley Solar array project.

Town Supervisor Doug Bowen read letters from the chiefs of North East Fire Department and Stanley Hose Company of Sherman, both of which expressed serious concerns over their ability to respond to an explosion or fire involving the solar array battery storage area.

Dave Meehl, chief of the Crescent Hose Company in North East, sent a letter to Ripley Fire Cheif Mark Smith stating that, after a meeting with Issac Phllips of ConnectGen, “there were a lot of unanswered questions about the safety of this storage of the battery and how to deal with them in an emergency situation.”

The letter from Stanley Hose Co. Chief Matt Oehlbeck says the members of his department support the North East Fire Department in opposing the South Ripley Solar Project.

These are not the first letters written in opposition to the solar project. On Nov. 10, several letters were read at the meeting of the Chautauqua County Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Among those who sent letters were Robert Galbraith, president of the Ripley Hose Company; Mark Smith, Ripley fire chief; and several Ripley residents.

At the town’s December meeting, however, attorney Ben Wisniewski emphasized that “everyone must realize that the town board does not have the authority to approve or not approve the project. The state has the final say.”

Later in the January meeting, during public participation, Phillips announced that a public informational session will be held (via Zoom) on Jan. 28 from 6-8 p.m. Phillips said he intends to review what ConnectGen has done in 2020 and to present an outline of what people should expect in 2021.

“There will also be a question and answer session,” he said.

Bowen told board members that Wisniewski has informed the town that the ConnectGen project will likely fall under Law 94C.

According to the state Senate website: Article 94 establishes the Office of Renewable Energy Siting and “consolidates the environmental review and permitting of major renewable energy facilities in this state.” It also “provides a single forum in which the office of renewable energy siting may undertake a coordinated and timely review of proposed major renewable energy facilities . . .”

In other business, members were asked to approve the appointment of Jason K. Jones as acting assessor at the rate of $18 an hour. In requesting approval, Bowen noted that Jones has “exceeded the expectations of the board.” Bowen explained that Jones cannot yet be appointed as town assessor.

“He is appointed as acting assessor because he hasn’t received all of his training,” Bowen said. “And he needs the equivalent of six months full time before he can be appointed assessor.”

In another matter, the board approved a resolution making the town responsible for the water bill for Quincy Cemetery. The resolution noted that many of the town’s celebrations of national holidays involve Quincy Cemetery and also that, as a not-for-profit organization, the cemetery is limited in its ability to raise money.

Bowen also gave council members an update on the water and sewer projects in the town. In regard to sewer project 2, Bowen said the testing of the 3-inch main along Route 20 is complete and the testing of the laterals is almost done.

“Weather depending, they could be hooking up residents alond Route 20 by the end of February or the beginning of March,” he said. “They are right on schedule moving forward.”

Bowen also told council members that the water district 5 project is nearly done.

“There are just a few odds and ends to do,” he said.

In a realted matter, board members gave approval to apply for an engineering/planning grant through the DEC/EFC. The grant would supply up to $30,000 for an engineering study to completely scope and clean lines in sewer district #1, Bowen said.

“Having planning studies ahead of time increase your chances of getting the grant,” he added.

Planning board chairperson Shelly Spacht reported that a planning work session will be held with Wisniewski on January 25. The board will complete the draft of solar zoning and send it to the town board, she said. Then the planning board will finish the battery/energy storage plan, she added.

In another report to the board, town clerk Becky Carvallo Rowe said the tax bills have gone out and she noted that there were some issues with water district 5 and sewer district 2.

“Some bills that the county generated had to be hand corrected,” she said. “Overall, the clerk’s office is very, very busy with taxes, water bills, cemetery plots and many other things.”

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