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Thursday, February 22, 2018

They thought the solar array would be a good neighbor to have. Then it rained./The Westerly Sun

Hard to believe that solar panels don't make the perfect neighbor, but here we see that, in fact, they don't.  Now, here we see a mistake that we hope does not happen very often:  An over zealous developer or installer not leaving in a proper natural canopy to slow the run off of water and shield the array from neighbor's view.

Good lessons for us all.  Certainly these panels will add more value and positives--lots of clean energy, local production, better use of land stripped of trees than more houses or industrial buildings--but that's hard to explain to a unhappy nearby community.

Richard Jurzyk, a property owner on Heaton Orchard Road in Richmond whose property abuts the Harvest Acre Farm solar array, is having problems with silted water runoff from the newly-built project. Harold Hanka, The Westerly Sun

RICHMOND — Two homeowners on Heaton Orchard Road who live next to a newly-built solar generating station are complaining that the installation is generating runoff that inundates their yards and floods the road. 
The solar array consists of 16,000 panels and covers approximately 23 acres of Harvest Acre Farm, owned by John and Cindy Duncan on Kingstown Road (Route 138).
The installation, which is split into two arrays, was built by WED Kingstown Solar 1 LLC, received Planning Board approval last April.
Richard Jurzyk, who owns a house at 5 Heaton Orchard Road, keeps an eye on the weather, because when it rains, water flows from the solar array into his wooded property. Sitting at his kitchen table, Jurzyk showed a series of photos he has taken of his flooded yard, the trees standing in deep ponds of water. There are also several photos of the flooded road and the solar panels in standing water.
At the rear of his property, where he was expecting that a wooded buffer would shield the array, instead there is a row of large boulders creating a barrier similar to a sea wall. The silt fence, which is required in order to minimize erosion, has been buried in several spots by sediment transported by water from the property. The solar panels are standing on bare ground that has turned to mud, and water flows under and between the big boulders.
Jurzyk said he first began having runoff problems in mid-January when a snowfall was followed by heavy rain. He turned to the town of Richmond for help, but the town directed him to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which is responsible for issuing stormwater and wetlands permits. He said DEM could not help him, either.
“The town says ‘contact the DEM,’ DEM said ‘contact the town,’” he said.
Richmond Town Planner Juliana Berry said the DEM, not the town, has the authority to regulate stormwater runoff.
“RIDEM permits were received/recorded in BPZ/Land Evidence on July 6, 2017, final plans were recorded on August 11, and Richmond building permits were subsequently applied for and issued,” she wrote in an email. “The town has now received a few inquiries from Heaton Orchard Road residents and from the Conservation Commission regarding who to contact on stormwater/runoff concerns related to this project. The permitting authority with purview over this matter is RIDEM.”
Contacted about the Heaton Orchard Road situation, DEM spokesperson Gail Mastrati said the agency was looking into the complaints.
“DEM has received a complaint regarding this matter and will be conducting an inspection,” she said.
Jurzyk, who, with his wife, Carol, has owned his house since 1988, said this was the first time he had experienced runoff problems.
“The 2010 floods have come and gone and there were no issues,” he said.
Like the solar installation, the home is in a light industrial zone, but Jurzyk said he had no idea how large and disruptive the project would be.
“It’s worse than a strip mine,” he said. “I had no idea. Okay, they’re going to put a solar farm in … Would I have liked it better if it had stayed woods? Yeah. But I’ve been here 30 years and I remember saying to my wife ‘we don’t own the property. It’s light industrial just like this is, and they do what they want.’”
Sections of Jurzyk’s back yard, which were covered with grass, now resemble muddy stream beds. On the perimeter of the array, there are no trees left to screen it from view.
“There wasn’t anything green left,” he said. “The topsoil is all gone. If there’s any topsoil left, it’s just a veneer.”
The water doesn’t stop at the Jurzyks’ house. It pools on Heaton Orchard Road and floods the yard of his neighbors, Bill and Candace Bishop. Bill Bishop said that after blasting occurred at the construction site, his well water became cloudy.
“My well has gone cloudy three times during heavy rain,” he said. “It’s the only time it’s happened in the 17 years we’ve been there. We put in a brand new well.”
“My whole front yard is a pond,” Candace Bishop said, adding that after they complained, the developer dropped a load of coarse gravel on the side of the road and at their driveway.
“They came and filled it in with rocks at the end of our driveway,” she said. “I have no problems with what John and Cindy Duncan have done with the farm, but I wish they’d do something about the flooding on the street.”
The Bishops complained to the DEM a month ago and are still awaiting a response.
“They never call you back,” Candace said. “They should address this before they [the developer] pull out. It’s not John and Cindy, it’s the developer.”
Berry said she intended to visit the neighborhood in the near future to assess the situation.
cdrummond@thewesterlysun.com

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