By Beth David, Editor
The Acushnet Selectboard held an emergency meeting on Thursday, 2/2, with other town departments, and abutters to the solar installation being built at 550 Main Street to discuss widespread and destructive flooding that work on the project has caused in the neighborhood and along Main Street.
Stephen G. Campbell, Jr., the Chief Operating Officer of Navisun, which now owns the project, was also at the meeting, and assured the town and neighbors that the company would do whatever it takes to make the situation right.
The crux of the problem is that after the project clear-cut a two+ acre field, water flooded area homes and businesses. Apparently, the scope of the project nearly doubled, from one megawatt to 1.7 megawatts without any changes to the flood mitigation plans. According to the latest legal notice, the solar array will cover 8.9 acres, and the project cleared 16.2 acres.
SB member Bob Hinckley said there was a “brook” running under Main Street and over Main Street.
“It needs to be addressed,” he said.
Conservation Agent Pat Hannon gave a presentation laying out the problems, with photos of flooded yards, fields, and parking lots. He said he toured the site with state officials and the Environmental Protection Agency, and they are now paying attention.
He went through a history of the project and the various ideas and back-and-forth with the company to try to rectify the situation.
Mr. Hannon said the ground is too saturated for normal discharging on stie.
“The water needs to leave the site,” he said, adding that the town cannot tell the company exactly what to do because if it does not work, they will blame the town.
He also said the project changed, going from one board to another with the changes not being seen by the other boards.
The water that flowed was wide and fast through yards, under Main Street, over Main Street, alongside of Main Street, and Mr. Hannon had the photos to prove it.
“We have a chance of losing that portion of Main Street,” said Building Commissioner Andy Bobola, adding that the whole project is below the water table.
“There are just so many things that are not correct,” he said. “It’s hard to fathom. And this is what we’re left with as a community.”
He said one resident lost his well and had to tie into town water.
“There should’ve been a lot more eyes on this project,” said Mr. Bobola. “We’ve got to, as a community, get a grip on this so these types of things don’t happen.”
Selectboard members voiced their frustration with both the developers and the town’s own officials who should have been keeping an eye on the project.
SB member Kevin Gaspar said it was “serious negligence” and “gross negligence” on the part of town officials. He said he toured the site with officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and they could not believe what they saw.
“I have no idea how something of this magnitude ever slipped through the cracks,” said Mr. Gaspar, adding that people are getting paid, there is a process in place, reviews by different boards, and it is still a mess.
He blamed the digital permitting process and said they need to go back to paper, where everyone signs on the piece of paper so they are accountable.
“There are a lot of things that need corrections,” he said, adding that the town is paying a lot of money to a lot of people in salaries and they need to be held accountable. “It’s gross negligence.”
He said it was obvious to anyone that the flood mitigation efforts would not be good enough.
“It’s beyond my belief how this solar field ever ended up there,” said Mr. Gaspar.
The site is supposed to be designed to hold rainwater and have it drain in 72 hours, he said. Yet, days later, the water is still standing.
The meeting, held last Thursday, was just ahead of a forecasted deep freeze for the weekend, when temperatures hit well below freezing.
SB Chairperson David Wojnar explained that if there is a deep freeze that hardens the ground, then a lot of rain, the whole road could go.
According to town officials, the homeowner who hooked up to town water needed to abandon the well on the property because flooding caused by the project contaminated it.
Deborah Medeiros, who owns a farm abutting the project, said her pond is full of silt, and the field is too muddy to walk in. She used to hay the field twice a year, she said, but there is no way she can use the equipment because it is too muddy.
Mr. Campbell said that Navisun bought the project from another developer, so they were not involved in the creation of the drainage plan. He said they are conducting their own internal investigation to find out how it happened.
He said that the company is also worried about what will happen if it all freezes.
“We are taking this extremely seriously,” said Mr. Campbell.
He told the board that they are using pumping trucks to remove water from the ground, and frac tanks to store the water off the ground.
He said the engineers are working on it.
Mr. Gaspar said that if it is the same engineer who designed what is there, “It’s garbage. You should fire him.”
He said if they have to shrink the project to make the retention ponds larger, then they will have to do that.
“You’re gonna swallow that pill and like it,” said Mr. Gaspar, and added that if the town has to “flush the toilet” on their end, meaning fire town officials, then they will do that and bring in all new people.
Mr. Wojnar told Mr. Campbell he appreciated that the company was not being defensive, but was promising to make things right.
The board and Mr. Campbell also discussed some details of the special permit, most notably which time of year they can clear trees, etc.
Town Administrator James Kelley said it was clear, in plain English, when the company could and could not do certain things, and they violated the terms of the permit.
Navisun attorney Mark Kalpin stepped in at that point and said the language was not so black and white, that it said they could do certain things if they did mitigating things depending on the time of year, etc.
“The language could be a lot clearer,” said Mr. Kalpin.
“We can argue about that,” said Mr. Kelley.
Mr. Wojnar said the town needed to clean up the language on special permits to make it “crystal clear.”
Mr. Wojnar said the meeting had a “good tone.” He said the town made its position clear on what their expectations are, and “you guys recognize it’s a mess.”
“We want the abutters to know we are taking it very seriously,” reiterated Mr. Campbell.
Mr. Gaspar noted that the town has not been enforcing its stormwater bylaw. He said a stormwater permit was not even issued.
Mr. Campbell said the company is looking at a 40-year relationship with the town, and it is “unfortunate” that the situation happened.
“We’re going to fix this,” said Mr. Campbell.
Ms. Medeiros, who owns the farmland, said the planning board was no help.
“Now my pond is full of silt, my field is full of silt,” she said, and asked who will make sure her pond life comes back?
“My land is what I care about,” said Ms. Medeiros, telling the board her great grandparents lived on that land. “We’ve been here forever.”
She said there had been no notifications to abutters about any changes. She did not even know that Navisun bought the project until she saw the sign.
There are trees that have fallen half on her property, she said, because the project cut down so many trees, the last storm took down the few left around the perimeter. She said she does not have people she can hire to clear them out.
“I want do know who is going to follow through,” she said, and make sure it all gets fixed.
“That’s me,” said Mr. Campbell, and handed her his business card.
The board will be discussing ways to prevent a similar situation in the future. Officials from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Department of Public Works, Fire Department, Police Department, and Building Department were also at the meeting.
“We have internally bigger problems that we’re going to fix going forward,” said Mr. Gaspar.
The meeting is available on demand on the town’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWx9VywwKUY
Click here to download the 2/9/23 issue: 02-09-23 MillieBDay
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