Lowville trustees narrowly grant zoning immunity for county solar project

Watertown Daily Times | Steve Virkler
September 23, 2016

Village trustees on Wednesday narrowly voted to grant Lewis County zoning immunity for its planned solar project, more than a week and a half after the initial vote was deadlocked.

Trustee Franz J. Philippe, who was unable to attend a Sept. 9 immunity hearing on the matter, voted to allow the project to proceed without review by the village Planning Board, joining Mayor Donna M. Smith and Trustee Charles W. Truax Jr.

Mr. Philippe said that, after listening to a recording of the hearing and looking over nine criteria for granting immunity, he felt the county project met that standard.

“I’m looking at the nine factors alone,” he said. “That’s what my vote was based on.”

Deputy Mayor Joseph G. Beagle and Trustee Dan L. Salmon again opposed immunity.

Mr. Beagle suggested county officials were saying they “didn’t have to follow the rules,” adding that not following the rules was what got former President Richard M. Nixon in trouble during Watergate.

“I think they totally dropped the ball on this one,” Mr. Salmon said, echoing the mayor’s Sept. 9 statement that Planning Board approval could have already been granted if the county had just gone through the regular process.

County legislators have approved a power purchase agreement with Greenskies Renewable Energy, Connecticut, that would offer guaranteed savings of $2.86 million over 20 years for Lewis County and its municipal hospital. However, actual savings could be higher than that, depending on fluctuating electric rates and other factors.

Under the deal, Greenskies is to construct a 2-megawatt solar array on about 19 acres behind the county Public Safety Building on outer Stowe Street, then sell relatively low-cost power to the county for 20 years.

“I’m very pleased to hear about the revote and granting of immunity to the county,” county attorney Joan E. McNichol said Thursday. “We’re always trying to work cooperatively with our municipal partners, and this is another way we can do that.”

The initial hope was to have the system operational sometime this fall, but installation won’t be able to start until spring due to several delays, including continued negotiations with National Grid for approval of a grid connection, Ms. McNichol said.

With the village’s sign-off, upgrade work on the access road may be done this year, she said.

Trustees on Wednesday also issued a notice allowing installation of a 24-inch sewer pipe from the Kraft Heinz plant on Utica Boulevard directly to the sewage treatment plant to begin Monday; Kraft Heinz has committed to cover the cost up to the $1.5 million estimate.

Prior to the vote, trustees and village Municipal Board members held a lengthy closed-door session with village attorney Mark G. Gebo under attorney-client privilege to further discuss a proposed agreement with Kraft Heinz on the pipeline project. Board members had previously expressed concerns with several items in the contract, particularly involving responsibility for any future maintenance costs for the line.

While a couple minor issues need to be addressed before the document may be signed, Mrs. Smith said she felt comfortable giving the go-ahead to the project beforehand.

“We all know this is something we need to do,” she said.

“I don’t want to do anything to slow this down or stop it,” Mr. Truax added.

Officials with GYMO Architecture, Engineering and Land Surveying, Watertown, reported that the first part of the village’s ongoing $3.88 million emergency sewer upgrades, desludging of village lagoons, is slated for completion early next week.