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Court dismisses move to block solar farm in Shoreham

A state Supreme Court justice has dismissed a lawsuit by Shoreham residents seeking to block construction of a 60-acre solar farm in their community, and a lawyer for the developer says construction will start "as soon as possible."

In rejecting residents' claims, acting Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti ruled Wednesday that they "have no standing to petition this court to regulate the private conduct of either the developer or the land owner." He found that there was no need for further environmental review, as residents had sought, and questioned their criticism of the project.

Other than concern about "reflective glare," Farneti wrote, "there is nothing in the record proffered by the plaintiffs asserting any non-general specific injury to their property within the zone of interest."

The suit by eight residents and a group calling itself the Shoreham Wading River Advocates for Justice had asked the court to reject approvals granted by Brookhaven Town's planning board, as well as a contract with LIPA and PSEG Long Island.

Garrett L. Gray, an attorney for developer sPower of Salt Lake City, said in an email that the decision means the company will begin construction "as soon as possible." In addition to sPower, the suit named LIPA, PSEG Long Island, and Brookhaven's planning board, among others, as defendants.

Fred Eisenbud, a lawyer for residents, said his clients "are deeply disappointed that a site plan was upheld which eliminates 60 acres of open space, and will change the character of the community. They are reviewing with their attorney their appeal options."

The Shoreham solar farm is to be built on what is currently a DeLalio Sod Farms field. Residents argued that the thousands of solar arrays visible from Route 25A would be an eyesore and reduce home values.

Their suit charged that the project lacked the proper environmental reviews and that sPower's contract with LIPA was invalid.

The court previously had granted a temporary restraining order that blocked construction of the project, originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2014.

Developer sPower had argued the court delays were costing the company $15,000 a day. The company projects it will make $39.3 million in net income over the next 19 years from LIPA ratepayers.

The project was contentious from the moment residents said they first learned of it last summer. They packed Brookhaven board meetings, saying sPower had failed to properly notify them of the plan, and argued that it would cause health, safety and aesthetic problems.

The project is directly across the street from an even larger solar farm that is planned for what is currently the Tallgrass Golf Course. That 150-acre project, by developer Invenergy, has a maximum capacity of 24.9 megawatts, compared with sPower's 9.5 megawatts. A megawatt powers about 800 homes.

The projects are moving forward even though the Suffolk County Planning Commission this year issued a set of guidelines for large commercial solar projects that would require about a third of their land be open space, excluding spaces between panels, and that they be built on industrial land, not farmland.

The Brookhaven Town Board unanimously adopted the county solar code Thursday night.

With Carl MacGowan

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