Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Woonsocket North Smithfield 07-23-2020

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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6 SCOUTING / NO. SMITHFIELD JULY 23-29, 2020 | VALLEY BREEZE | NORTH SMITHFIELD BLACKSTONE WOONSOCKET NORTH SMITHFIELD – It's a little like giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Last Thursday, July 16, the North Smithfield Planning Board voted 3-2 to approve the first round of plans for a nine-megawatt solar farm on prop- erty owned by David Gold. At the same time, board members vote 4-1 to urge the Town Council to reject a proposed land swap that proj- ect representatives have described as an intricate part of the project. The votes came after several weeks of debate about the proposal, which would involve developing approxi- mately 32 acres of panels off Mattity Road. As part of the project, about 76 acres of land would be turned over the town, which in turn would agree to lease the solar portion to Rhode Island Renewable Energy for a 25- to 30-year period. At the end of the project, the town would have full control of all the land. The proposal has sparked seri- ous debate about conservation and whether preserving a larger parcel in the long run warrants allowing a smaller portion to be developed in the short-term. In particular, residents have raised concerns that the project will destroy a series of wooded trails on the property in exchange for pub- lic access to two water bodies and other sections of the land. On Thursday, Christopher Simpkins, an abutter to the property who's also running for Town Council, raised another concern. As part of the project, the town would have to agree to remove a conservation easement that was placed on 10 acres of the property at the request of the Gold family in the 1990s. In exchange, the town could place a conservation ease- ment on the portion of the property that's not being used for solar panels. Reading from the legal document that created the easement, Simpkins listed off the activities currently pro- hibited on the 10-acre section. They include construction, tree clearing, chemicals, pesticides, excavation and damaging of wildlife habitats. "The development that we're talk- ing about here will violate every single one of those restrictions, some- times in multiple ways," he said. "If the town says that the conserva- tion designation can be nullified to make way for development and sim- ply swapped for different land, then is that new conservation land really worth anything? Do we want to set a precedent that the conservation ease- ment is essentially meaningless?" According to John Mancini, the attorney representing the solar com- pany, only the Town Council has the authority to remove that conservation easement and place it somewhere else. The new conservation land would in theory be held by the town in perpetuity, though Simpkins point- ed out that following that logic, the town could again decide to swap out the easement when another opportu- nity arose. "Apparently, perpetuity has limits, since the conservation land being dis- cussed here was also held in perpetu- ity," he said. Board members raised other con- cerns about the project, staking out their positions on the conservation issue. While members Megan Staples and Jeffrey Porter were opposed, member Richard Keene expressed his support, pointing out a denial could push the landowner to bring a housing development into the area. It was member David Punchak who asked whether the board could approve the project but ask the Town Council to deny the conservation land swap, effectively removing those 10 acres from the proposal. Mancini said the developer had no plans of reducing the project and considered it an all-inclusive proposal. "We've designed a nine-megawatt project. We can't go down to a six- megawatt project, we can't go down to a seven-megawatt project," he said. "If it's a denial, it's a denial, but we can't revise it," he added. "The conservation swap is an intricate part of the proposal, as is the additional acreage that we've provided you." Despite this, board members went ahead with the idea. They voted 3-2 to approve the project's master plan application, with Chairman Gary Palardy voting in favor, and voted along the same lines to recommend the project to the Zoning Board. When it came to the Town Council recommendation, however, Palardy and Punchak joined Staples and Porter in asking the council not to grant the removal of the conserva- tion easement. Only Keene voted in favor, effectively creating conflicting recommendations on the company's original proposal. Depending on the timing of when the company appears before the Town Council, voters could now have a lot more say in the project than is typical. In less than four months, residents will head to the polls for a local election, the outcome of which could determine whether the Town Council accepts the pro- posed land swap. Board approves Gold solar plans, snubs land swap proposal By LAUREN CLEM Valley Breeze Staff Writer lauren@valleybreeze.com AILI MARSHALL from Woonsocket Girl Scout Troop 764 earned her Girl Scout Bronze Award on June 23. For her project, Aili spent more than 20 hours cre- ating, sewing, and building enrichment toys for animals at the Lincoln Animal Shelter. Through completing this project, Aili gained a greater sense of self and showed community problem solving skills by contributing to her community in a purposeful and meaningful way. Aili is the daughter of Susie and Clint Marshall of Cumberland. Bronze Award winner Gift basket exchange group seeks members The group Sisterhood of the Traveling Surprises is seeking mem- bers who are interested in participat- ing in a gift basket exchange. Organizers say the group is made up of women, age 21 and older, who put together themed baskets to gift to other group members by surprise delivery. For more information or to join the group, search Sisterhood of the Traveling Surprises! (CT & Rhode Island) on Facebook. IN BRIEF

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