Hearing

Karl Kowalski, owner of Maverick Farms, an organic dairy farm which would host 45-acres of solar panels if allowed to proceed, addressed town officials Wednesday, saying that the project would save his farm. (Ben Joe/staff)

The Lockport Town Board received plenty of resident input on Wednesday night as more than 20 speakers made their case to Supervisor Mark Crocker and council members on whether or not the town should approve a six-month moratorium on solar energy projects.

The first speaker was Karl Kowalski, a dairy farmer that had decided to take Renewable Properties, a San Francisco-based solar energy company, up on its offer to take 45-acres of his land to erect solar panels, the revenue from which would save his farm. The acreage is between Day, Slayton Settlement, Harrington and Canal roads.

“We are the applicant that is applying for this solar project, and I believe it’s the first large-scale project in Lockport, and I know it’s hard to always be first,” Kowalski said. “At this time, if we have a moratorium that stops us, it puts a great burden on the project and we look to this project because we’re trying to find alternative ways to save our farm so we can continue to farm it for many years.”

Opponents of the Slayton project, such as David McCollum also addressed the town board.

“We fully support you putting a six-month moratorium on a solar energy system and battery storage systems. The current 2016 solar laws leave many questions unanswered,” McCollum said. “Everything needs to be reviewed, as you proposed. The current laws favor solar companies and not the residents or the property owners. At previous hearings we have expressed our concern over industrial solar and we thank the Lockport Town Board for listening to our concerns.”

The previous meeting McCollum referred to was a Town of Lockport Planning Board meeting which brought a crowd of people that exceeded seating space, many holding signs against industrial solar. A similar crowd was at a public information meeting at Wright’s Corners the previous week, which was conducted by Brian Madigan and Stephanie Lucas of Renewable Properties, both of whom spoke at the public hearing Wednesday night.

“I don’t have much to say that no one has already addressed this evening. I would like to say that I first met Tina and Karl last summer, talking over the phone while we did our environmental studies, preparing the pre-application which we submitted in July that year,” Madigan said. “I think to say at this late stage in the game that people weren’t notified properly that the prospect of not allowing us our day in court, so to speak, with the planning board is fundamentally unfair.”

Madigan said that the town board had made its decision in 2016 when they adopted the solar law now current in the municipality and should stand by the decision. Thus far, the company has invested more than $1.75 million into the project, he said.

Those who oppose an exclusionary clause for the Slayton Project, allowing Kowalski and Renewable Properties to complete the project, presented a letter to the board written by Brent Powley and Barbara McCollum Outten. In it they expressed their dedication to finding a way to, “update the town’s comprehensive plan, and to ensure that all parties have a voice in shaping the future.”

“We look forward to working with the town in meaningful discussions with a clear consensus forum to ensure that the very qualities that drew people to the Town of Lockport, New York can be built upon and that can allow residents to feel secure, that the investments into their property, and time in the community are ensured for future generations to enjoy,” reads the letter.

Tina Kowalski also submitted a letter chronicling the Kowalski’s history at Maverick Farm, the site of the Slayton Project, and the prospect of losing it.

“Imagine, if you will, working hard all your life, pouring your blood sweat and even many tears into something you love, only to have someone to come along and disregard, disrespect, and damage what you have worked for. I know that probably sounds extreme, but that is exactly what happened,” she wrote.

Crocker closed the public hearing, saying that no action would be taken on whether to pass the moratorium that evening. “This local law has been referred to the Niagara County Planning Board for their recommendation and comments,” the town supervisor said. “If we receive the comments by the June 23 works session, we anticipate working on this law at that time.”

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