Solar arrays in Westerlo are a group failure

To the Editor:

We sent this letter to Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy.

This letter is written to you to make you, and your constituents, aware of a serious threat to the safety and well being of students within our community and others who are traveling on State Route 32, heading north as they approach the intersection of Albany County Route 405.

You may be aware that a huge solar farm has been constructed on the eastern side of Highway 32 and the solar panels face due south into the mountains and, incredibly, directly into the vision of oncoming traffic headed north on Route 32.

In mid to late September at approximately 3 p.m., the glare from those panels is blinding to drivers heading north. This is a route that our children’s school buses use every day at just about this time.

Many residents have reported that they have been blinded by the glare of the reflection from the panels to such an extent that they have been caused to have to divert their eyes from the road and have driven off their lanes of passage north. That is the current situation.

This letter is written to you in hopes of averting a very likely vehicular catastrophe. You are also deserving of a summary of how this situation transpired and how our little town got here.

The lands that the solar “farm” now occupy have been vacant for years and immediately adjoin a very run-down property that is the gateway to the community. The town has done nothing to enhance that property over the years and merely allowed it to fall into ruin. The town leaders, in the opinion of many, did nothing to encourage the improvement of a property that was once so beautiful.

To the credit of two individuals, one living in the town, the other in a neighboring town and operating businesses in Westerlo, the property was bought up for development. [“Shepard Farm to be restored, with small business hopes for Westerlo,” The Altamont Enterprise, Feb. 9, 2017] Bravo! We are all supportive of such initiative. Members of the community were delighted. Social media suggested that the dilapidated buildings would be renovated and utilized for commercial office and retail space.

Apparently, and not known to many in the community, the bigger plan was the establishment of a huge solar farm. Yes, town hall meetings were held. Notices posted in a paper that is sparingly read by one part of the town and almost never by the other where the farm is located.

The planning board and the company involved moved forward. What is done is done. Lessons learned. Community failure. Enough criticism to go all around.

Some of those many lessons:

— 1. The town planning board was in no way, shape, or form equipped to handle a project of this magnitude. This was huge! There is no way those members could even begin to understand the magnitude of such a project. Where were real specialists to represent the people of the community? Why did we not have folks from other communities in nearby states that had been so impacted on hand to advise them and the citizenry as to what to expect. Apparently final regulations for such a project were not even in place when work commenced;

— 2. Why weren’t scale models of what the gateway of the community would look like (topography and landscape) created and put up in local banks, the Tops supermarket, local restaurants, the town hall of both Westerlo and Greenville and other places the citizenry frequent so they would see what this glass ocean would mean to their community gateway?;

— 3. The citizenry, including the authors of this letter, have to bear responsibility for this matter. “What we had here was a failure to communicate.”

We blew it. All of us. The townspeople who didn’t pay attention, the town planning board that had a critical meltdown, the higher government offices that apparently allowed a project of this size to roll right along without taking note of what it was doing to a town’s aesthetics located in two neighboring counties that depend highly on tourism.

Of course, there is New York governance that, while having a stated interest in solar production, has a responsibility for school bus and general traffic safety. Let’s not have to be reactive as the state had to be in Schoharie County;

— 4. Most importantly, the engineers that have responsibility and accountability for the safety of all people/children impacted by such a project dropped this one big time.

Respectfully, the barn door is closed. South Westerlo’s beauty, rather than being enhanced as hoped for by many, has been further diminished and this time the damage is permanent.

Residents now refer to South Westerlo as “Solar South Westerlo” as the plant is now the overwhelmingly dominant feature when one comes into town. Residents living close to the plant will realize a marked depreciation in property values.

Residents of the town are not aware of any significant positive impact to tax revenue that will help their families. Towns such as Redding, Connecticut, or even neighboring Rensselaerville, would never have allowed their borders to be so negatively impacted!

Now we simply ask that our children and others be protected from the danger of a potential vehicular calamity. We are not engineers, the kind that should have anticipated the angle of the sun and glare being caused by the location of this solar farm had this been handled appropriately.

 We also believe that the matter is now far beyond the auspices of town governance. We ask your assistance in helping to rectify this matter to whatever extent it can now be rectified.

James Eufemia

Bert Tobin

South Westerlo

Editor’s note: In addition to publishing legal notices and letters to the editor on the subject, these are among the stories The Enterprise wrote after John Dolce and Steve Haaland purchased Shepard Farm:

Feb. 9, 2017: “Shepard Farm to be restored, with small business hopes for Westerlo,”

Nov. 23, 2017: “‘Solar City’: Westerlo reviews two large array proposals”;

Nov. 30, 2017: “Westerlo reviews three solar projects in one night”;

Jan. 4, 2018: “Shepard Farm approved for solar panels”;

Nov. 22, 2018: “As solar arrays add battery storage, Westerlo mulls changes to law”; and

Aug. 8, 2019: “In Westerlo's ‘perfect storm,’ solar moratorium enacted.”

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