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Long IslandSuffolk

Hundreds oppose solar project on Brookhaven sod farm

Hundreds of Shoreham residents turned out at a Brookhaven Town Planning Board meeting Monday to oppose a plan to construct a 60-acre solar-energy field on what is now a sod farm in their community.

Dozens of speakers urged the board to reject a land division variance for the project -- consisting of 50,000 solar panels mounted 10 feet off the ground -- fearing it would affect property values, rural views and possibly health. Residents also took issue with town and developer notification in advance of the project, with most saying they'd only heard of it in recent days or weeks.

"I should have known about this three or four months ago," said resident Steven Walker. "I heard about it two weeks ago."

Many said they favored solar power but took exception to its placement on a high-profile farm on Route 25A.

"This particular application is a good use in the wrong area," said resident and commercial real estate expert David Madigan.

Chris Wiedemann, a project manager for the developer, San Francisco-based sPower, disputed criticism that the project would cause health problems or lower property values. "The project is designed to be a good neighbor," he said.

He also denied reports that the project was approved "behind closed doors," saying the company went "above and beyond" requirements.

Marc Alessi, a Shoreham resident and a LIPA trustee, said that if the board approves the project, he would file suit on behalf of residents to slow or stop it. He and others proposed moving the project to the shuttered Shoreham nuclear plant, which is nearby.

"This is a big project, and we were all caught off guard," said Alessi. "It's a disaster, a complete breaking of trust with this community and the Town of Brookhaven."

The land had been owned by DeLalio Sod Farms.

While Alessi has charged the project advanced "in secret," LIPA and Brookhaven have denied the project was improperly approved by the town. In a statement last week LIPA said, "To our knowledge this project and the developer sPower went through the [Brookhaven] town permitting process, which included public meetings. Neither [LIPA] nor PSEG Long Island have a role in the construction or operation of this facility."

PSEG Long Island in January took over administration of the solar projects that were approved by LIPA in 2013.

On its website PSEG lists 50 different projects that were approved for the so-called feed-in tariff proposal, which will pay developers set amounts for energy from their solar panels.

The Shoreham project is not listed under its location in Shoreham, but rather in Brookhaven. Asked why, PSEG spokesman Jeff Weir said, "The address is provided by the developer."

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