A farm vehicle owned by Verratti Farms, a dairy farm whose owners have been vocal in support for solar energy projects, was recently vandalized where it stood hundreds of feet from the street by Townline and Checkered Tavern roads.
The vandalism was discovered June 12 and included smashed driver- and passenger-side windows and a hole drilled into the oil pan. Jeremy Verratti estimated the damage to be about $12,000 including the cost to replace two plastic fertilizer tanks that had holes drilled in them.
“This is the first time this has happened to us in a long, long time,” Verratti said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had vandalism. We’ve had people trying to steal things, but from what we can tell, they didn’t steal anything. They simply vandalized. I would say this has never happened to us, and if it has, not in recent history.”
Verratti said he is unaware of any disgruntled employees or any other individuals who might be involved. He noted that the drilling through the oil pan was the most “malicious” part of the vandalism, since that could destroy the engine, and he balked at saying it was an impulse crime, because of the location and effort that went into it.
Verratti has been active in United Solar Energy Supporters (USES) since agreeing to lease some of his land for the Ridge View Solar Project proposed by EDF Renewables, an international solar energy company, on roughly 2,500 acres in the towns of Hartland and Newfane.
Local opposition to solar projects has shown itself to be strong. Urged by grassroots groups that have pointed to toxic elements in solar panels (modules), the Niagara County Legislature has adopted a pair of restrictive measures requiring recycling of modules (not a common practice in the United States, presently) and the posting of bonds to cover the cost of removing and decommissioning modules that are no longer in use.
In Newfane, a solar project siting law was passed to prevent "industrial" solar development on farm land.
In the town of Lockport, the operators of Maverick Farms, which hopes to host a 45-acre solar farm off Slayton Settlement Road, have encountered fierce opposition from neighboring residential and farm land owners including the influential principals of McCollum Farms. The grassroots group "Protect Our Rural Communities," headed by Barbara McCollum Outten, has taken aim at both the Slayton Settlement and Ridge View projects.
In an interview with the Union-Sun & Journal, Verratti declined to link vandalism of his property with his involvement in solar energy advocacy.
“I’m trying to avoid speculation on why anyone would’ve done this to us. We plan to continue business as usual,” he said. “Farmers are very exposed with grounds spread over a large geographical area.”
New York State Trooper Eric Newman, who took the report on Verratti's loss, said there are currently no leads in the case, which remains under investigation.
“Where (the fertilizer vehicle) was located is very desolate,” Newman said. “It was well off the road and there are no homes close to it.”
Verratti said there were footprints on the soil coming from the road, which suggests to him that two people were involved in the vandalism. He asked that anyone who has information about the incident call the State Police (434-5588).
“We are saddened about this vandalism against our business, but we continue to hope for justice and unity within our community,” Verratti said.