BEDMINSTER TWP. – Technicalities have held up a controversial proposal to cover much of a farm with solar panels, but that hasn’t stopped objectors from continuing to mobilize.
The objectors, in an email sent to more than 170 residents on Saturday, Feb. 16, encouraged turnout at upcoming town meetings and announced the creation of a web site, PreserveBedminster.com.
“We will keep you informed with updates, fund raisers and newspaper articles as they come in,” said the email sent out by a group calling itself Stop Somerset Hills Power Plant (SSHPP).
At issue is a proposal by KDC Solar, LLC, to erect 49,000 ground-mounted solar panels on a 53-acre section of the 132-acre Kirby tract at Country Club and Meadow roads. The panels would serve Sanofi-Aventis, which has an office complex directly east of the site, on the other side of Interstate Route 287, on Route 206 in Bridgewater Township.
KDC filed an application seeking a use variance from the Bedminster Land Use Board last December. But the board deemed the application incomplete on Jan. 3, delaying a public hearing scheduled for Jan. 10.
At the board’s meeting on Thursday, Feb. 7, Township Engineer Paul Ferriero said KDC re-filed the plans but he had not had a chance to review them. The board has scheduled a completeness review at its next meeting, scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the municipal complex on Miller Lane.
In the meantime, residents living near the Kirby tract have denounced KDC’s proposal as a potential eyesore that would hurt the area’s rural landscape while serving a lone corporate entity.
They formed an opposition group, the Burnt Mills Preservation Alliance, which now goes by the SSHPP name.
The new SSHPP web site characterized the proposal as a “55-acre, 49,000 panel industrial-scale power plant” on a residentially zoned farm.
“The proposal includes the clear cutting of 38 acres of forested land and the removal of the landmark barn located on the property,” it said.
In response to the feedback, Mayor Steven Parker said at the Township Committee meeting on Monday, Feb. 4, that the committee planned to introduce a land use ordinance that would regulate solar facilities.
He said the introduction would occur either Tuesday, Feb. 19, or Monday, March 4.
Parker, contacted Monday, said the ordinance was still being drafted and would be introduced on March 4. It will not be available to the public until that meeting, and officials do not expect to be ready to answer many questions at that point, he said.
But that should change when a public hearing follows in early April, he said.
“I would encourage people to read it,” he added. “I hope the public does come out to town meetings and make their voice heard on it.”
At the same time, Parker said people should be aware that the ordinance will be “global” and will not reference any specific site.
The email sent by SSHP urged residents to attend upcoming meetings of the Township Committee on March 4 and 18, the Land Use Board on March 7, and 14, the Open Space and Farmland Advisory Committee on March 12, and the Environmental Commission on March 20.
A handful of residents attended the last Township Committee and Land Use Board meetings with a sign that said, “Preserve Bedminster – Stop the Power Plant.”
“Although public hearings are not a sham, by that time most TC (Township Committee) members have made up their mind on how they will vote,” the objectors’ email said. “They may change their mind, if convincing or substantial arguments are made for or against the ordinance.
“That is why it is most important to attend the above meetings and keep the Stop Somerset Hills Power Plant message (signs and comments) in front of them all the time,” it said.
The email also urged residents to contact state legislators to support an Assembly bill, 3218, that would remove the “inherently beneficial” designation for solar and wind power when proposed for development on open space and/or farmland.