Residents standing against a 45-acre solar project on Karl and Tina Kowalski’s Maverick Farm have reached a new middle.
In a Wednesday work session, the Lockport town board advanced a proposed six-month moratorium on large solar energy projects. The moratorium now excludes the Kowalskis' farm on Slayton Settlement Road, where development of a 7 megawatt project is already well underway. The town board decided that project should be scrutinized by the planning board using existing town law.
The revised local law declaring a moratorium with an exception, proposed by board member Paul Siejak, will go to a public hearing on July 7, the board decided by a unanimous vote.
Maverick Farm neighbor Brent Powley, who opposes the solar project pitched by Renewable Properties, expressed unhappiness with its exclusion from the proposed moratorium. He asserted large solar energy projects must be better addressed by the town, since the topic wasn't mentioned in its most recent master plan, adopted in 2014.
The existing town law governing siting of solar facilities, written in 2016 by then-town attorney Mike Norris, was a good piece of legislation, Siejak countered.
“It was a very restrictive law. It didn’t allow anything bigger than 50 acres and projects between 15 and 50 had to have a special use permit,” he said.
Siejak supported an exception for the Renewable Properties project out of concern for legal liability and property rights, he said. The project reportedly already has expenditures of $1.75 million, incurred mostly by the company, which has leased the acreage from the Kowalskis.
“The applicant did due diligence and did follow the code. They have worked through an extensive process,” Siejak said. Subjecting the project to suspension by moratorium now “is like moving the goalposts in the middle of the game.”
Principals of McCollum Farms, which has acreage adjacent to Maverick Farm, also are opposed to the solar project. Co-owner Dave McCollum, who attended the Wednesday work session, suggested the project doesn't belong on prime farm land.
“It’s the finest land in the county. It is the most fertile and it is well-drained,” he said.
The Kowalskis, who also attended the work session, were relieved by the board's decision to exclude their property from the moratorium.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Tina Kowalski said. “We are cautiously optimistic.”
The Kowalski family has been on the land for 60 years. The current generation took over in the year 2000 and went organic. Going solar is a way to keep their business going, and the affected acreage will be grazed by sheep, according to the Kowalskis.
“Small farms and businesses have a real struggle,” Karl Kowalski said, noting organic feed costs twice as much as conventional feed and wholesalers have a glut of a supply that was once scarce.
The couple indicated they remain upset by the complaints of neighbors who object to the solar project. At a previous public hearing on the proposed moratorium, Tina Kowalski recalled, “All but two people complained they were going to lose their view.”
“Wait a minute, you don’t own the view,” Karl Kowalski chimed in, interrupting with the well-timed cadence of someone who's been married a long time.
Opponents of the Slayton Settlement solar project vowed they're not deterred by the carveout created for Renewable Properties.
The next town planning board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 20.