TOWN OF LOCKPORT — A green to silver landscape, a significant decrease in property values, excessive noise, the dreaded domino effect and an uncertain future are among the objections local residents say they have to the proposed massive solar farm near Slayton Settlement and Day roads.
Renewable Properties, based in California, is seeking a special use permit and site approval for its proposed 7-megawatt utility solar farm on 45 acres of land zoned residential-agricultural in the town of Lockport. The land has long been part of the Kowalski family farms.
“One bee isn’t going to hurt you, but the hive’s going to sting you and the hive is coming,” said Brent Powley, whose girlfriend resides at 4181 Day Road, just a few yards from the proposed solar farm.
“Look at what’s happening in the adjacent towns. We’ve got one in Hartland spilling into Newfane and they’re talking about onsite battery storage there that will be six football fields long,” Powley said.
Among the major concerns cited by nearby residents at a public hearing on the RP proposal earlier this week is its proximity to the Erie Canal just to the south and the Eighteenmile Creek tributary that runs diagonally through the proposed solar site, extending all the way north to Lake Ontario.
“Anything that happens to the land here is going downstream, so those farmers who use the water out of the creek for animals, whatever, they’re going to be effected by everything that happens up here,” he said.
Powley said another public forum is being planned before any final vote on the matter to allow for more resident input. A possible location for the next forum is the Wrights Corners Fire Hall, he said, in about two weeks.
“All of these people (pointing to adjacent homes) were at the last meeting and spoke out,” Powley said. “They used to look out their windows at beautiful, open fields, Now they’ll be looking this huge silver landscape.”
Another resident concern is a change to the Erie Canal Corridor, or narrow parcels of land that run on both sides of the entire canal route in the state.
“This is area and land that’s considered a national park and this proposed project doesn’t fall within it,” Powley said, adding that there’s also the issue of cultural heritage in the area, showing off one of the many indian arrowheads he’s found in the area.
Raised on the adjacent McCollum Farms along Slayton Settlement Road, Barbara Outten of Chapman Road, Gasport, expressed frustration over the plan.
“We have our own culture, developed by families that have farmed here for the past four or five generations that have provided food and dairy products for the rest of the state,” Outten said.
“We are critical infrastructure. Food is as important as power and we were here first. We are being told there’s no other choice and our voice does not matter.”
The potential noise generated by the solar farm is also a concern, Powley said.
“If you were standing near them, 65 decibels of sound is what’s expected to come out of it. You get 300 feet away at the road, the number is still 30 decibels, so it’s going to make some sound,” Powley said.
Two entrance driveways are planned for the site, one at the northeast property line on Slayton Settlement, east of its intersection at Day Road; and the other on Day Road just north of the lowest point in the “gully,” north of Canal Road.
Residents at Tuesday’s public hearing expressed concern that both local residents and animals will face greater traffic obstacles at these entrances, especially on Day Road. They also don’t like plans to try and camouflage it it.
“They plan to plant pine trees,” Powley said. “The ones out at the solar farm on Lockport Road, between Ward and Walmore, are two feet tall, 10 feet apart and they don’t hide it at all — and won’t for another 20 years, maybe,” he said.
Powley said his biggest concern is the end game.
“They say they’re going to take care of the land when they’re done with it, but they can go bankrupt, they could fold or it could be sold,” Powley said.
“Ultimately, it’s the landowner who ends up dealing with it in 10-to-20 years when it’s no longer profitable or working. Realize as well that most of the material is non-recyclable and no dumps want it.”
Outten said in the event of a fire, HAZMAT crews would be needed to be called to the scene and a special foam substance used to control flames. Solar panel fires cannot be fought with water, she said, adding that winds in the area would direct toxic smoke over adjacent farmland for miles.
“We have 3,000 animals just down the road, downwind from the potential smoke,” Outten said.
“A huge evacuation of people and livestock would be necessary with potential permanent damage to crops as well. The dust and damage could be devastating,” said Outten, who holds a degree in agricultural science from Penn State.
“If I was a politician and represented the constituents of this area and they didn’t want, it’s a no brainer what I would do — give us back our life and our liberty and the pursuit of what’s best for our community and our children.”
Outten and Powley, along with dozens of their neighbors, said they plan to continue the good fight.
“Who really benefits from this? The landowner and the town,” Powley said.
“And at the detriment of their constituents, the people who elected those officials. ‘We the People’ say, ‘No,’ “ Powley said.
“I want to make this a happy story. I looked over at the Kowalskis at the meeting on Tuesday night and they weren’t happy. They didn’t want to hear all of that from their neighbors. We still have to live with them.”
RP project manager Brian Madigan could not be reached for comment.
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