CAMBRIA — Representatives from Cypress Creek Renewables clashed with members of Cambria Opposition of Industrial Solar at a Wednesday night information meeting at the Cambria Fire Hall regarding the company’s Bear Ridge Solar Project.

The information meeting ended with roughly 70 people leaving all at once – 45 minutes into the open house forum.

“We let them know we don’t want them in our town,” said Susan Fischer, an active member of the opposition group who helped get the word out of the opportunity to interact with the team behind the 900-acre, 100 megawatt solar farm being created in the towns of Cambria and Pendleton.

The meeting began with Keith Silliman, the senior developer of the project, explaining the forum. He introduced his team to the crowd and asked that each team member be utilized in their expert field, whether that involved community benefit, environmental design, engineering, etc. by approaching them one-on-one with questions.

“Go around the room. Talk to these folks,” Silliman said. “They want to talk to you, they want to answer your questions.”

That’s not what the crowd wanted.

“You’re in a town that’s not like any other town you’ve been in,” Fischer replied. “We’re very dedicated. … Why can’t you stand and answer questions? That’s how we want to talk.”

Members, many wearing Anti-Solar t-shirts and holding signs, demanded the details of what the company would and would not do to conform with local solar laws in the Town of Cambria, as well as accusing the company of hiding information in plain sight by not volunteering the answers to pertinent questions involving the environment, leaching, what the panels are made of and finally if the farmland they take up will ever be available for agricultural use again.

“You’re saying zero leaching?” asked Darryl Hardt, who was concerned about the rivers and creeks in the area. 

Nick Hawvermale, a civil engineer and representative of Cypress Creek replied that he believed so.

“So, you’re saying there will be leaching?” Hardt followed. “It’s a yes or no question. Is it zero or not?”

At this point Silliman said this way of questioning was unacceptable and the format would return to what it was planned to be. For awhile the crowd talked amongst themselves, then the decision came to leave the meeting entirely.

Niagara County Legislator David Godfrey told the US&J shortly after the hall was emptied to approximately 10 people that he believed the company representatives were not allowed to answer the question whether they knew the answers or not.

“Any company like this, they have strict orders. If you say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time, you’re fired,” Godfrey said. “So we understand that.”

As to the company, Silliman said that while the vast majority of people at the meeting left, he still had some meaningful conversations with residents.

“It was a good exchange and that’s what I was hoping to get to today,” he said. “That was unfortunate that that happened, but I had some good discussions with several folks. Even the guy who stood up and was yelling, he thanked me for coming in.”

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