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More Studies Needed For Chautauqua Town Solar Project

Christian Schlesinger with ForeFront Power discusses the proposed 3.7-megawatt solar project proposed near Chautauqua-Stedman Road in the town of Chautauqua. The project must get new environmental studies before it can be constructed. P-J photo by Gregory Bacon

A technical decision is requiring more environmental studies be done before approval will be given for a proposed solar project in the town of Chautauqua.

During a meeting of the Chautauqua Town Board, officials voted that the 3.75-megawatt project — which is to be located near Chautauqua-Stedman Road — would be given a positive declaration for the State Environmental Quality Review.

Town Attorney Joel Seachrist explained that any time a municipality has an application for zoning approval, it has to make a determination on the possible environmental impacts of the action.

“A typical determination in most applications is a negative declaration, which sounds bad but it’s not,” he said. “For the applicant, it’s saying the town board has determined there are no significant adverse environmental impacts. The alternative to that is a positive declaration. A positive declaration says the board has determined that there could be significant environmental impacts and therefore they are asking the applicant to participate in a scoping process.”

In a scoping process, Seachrist explained, the town and the public have a chance to “scope” what issues need to be looked at in further detail. After that, the applicant is responsible for producing an environmental impact statement.

“It doesn’t mean the project is a go; it doesn’t mean the project is denied. It means there’s another step in the environmental review process,” he said.

Before the vote, Christian Schlesinger with ForeFront Power, the developer of the project, asked for a delay on the decision for a positive declaration until next month.

“Being that we had just received this resolution this morning … we have not really had an opportunity to focus specifically on the concerns here that have impact on that decision and the resolution,” he said.

But Councilman Scott Cummings said he didn’t want to wait. “I know they’ve asked for an extension but, at the same time, they didn’t seem to want to compromise and change the design of their panels in any way to help the neighboring properties,” he said.

Cummings made the motion for a positive declaration. Councilman Tom Carlson seconded the motion. The board unanimously approved the resolution.

Schlesinger appeared disappointed by the decision.

“Of the 40 or so projects that ForeFront has developed here in New York state, we have not ever received a positive declaration on any projects, similar to what we are presenting here tonight,” he said.

In March 2022, the town board approved a special use permit for a solar project to be constructed on Hartfield-Stockton Road. That project has yet to be built.

Schlesinger asked why that developer didn’t receive a positive declaration, but his did.

Carlson said, from his perspective, he has a better understanding of solar projects. “I know a lot more now than I did when that (Hartfield-Stockton) project came through,” he said.

In his opinion, Cummings said the location of ForeFront’s project is the difference. “I just don’t think that’s the right place for it,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that the homeowners right there can see these projects.”

Town Supervisor Don Emhardt said the Hartfield-Stockton project has an Amish farm across the street and a landscaping barn. It’s still an open field.

Seachrist said the developer of that project has remained mum on the plans. “They appear to have ‘ghosted’ the entire county,” he said. “They’ve been approved for several other towns. Nobody has heard a peep from them since they were approved.”

After the vote, those in attendance broke out in applause. Seachrist noted that even though the project has been given a positive declaration, it’s not been denied. “If they can answer the questions about the environmental issues, a lot of cases will still be approved. Don’t take from this that the project is dead,” he said.

Neighbor Bert Rappole responded, “Then we’re going to keep fighting.”

In a separate matter, the town board set a public hearing for a different solar project to take place Nov. 8 at 7:15 p.m. That solar project is proposed to be constructed at 6049 Wright Road, Dewittville. The town Zoning Board of Appeals is recommending that the project also be given a positive declaration.

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