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Port Washington residents question solar panel plan

Igor Sikiric, executive director of the Town of

Igor Sikiric, executive director of the Town of North Hempstead Solid Waste Management Authority, stands atop one of the town's two landfills. (Dec. 17, 2013) Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

North Hempstead town officials faced some pointed questions on Wednesday from Port Washington residents concerned about a plan to build solar panels on the area's two shuttered landfills.

During the two-hour meeting, held at the town's Harbor Links Golf Course, residents of communities near the landfills expressed a variety of concerns, including whether the panel arrays could pierce the protective caps over the landfills and the timing of the notice of the meeting to residents.

"We're frustrated because we've lived through so much," said Salem Lane resident Sheryl Chuzmir. "We're the people who live there, and we have not heard about this until this moment."

The town is considering leasing the landfills for 20 years to a private company that would erect two 2-megawatt solar energy-generating plants on them. The company would keep any revenue from the energy generated, and the town would profit from the lease payments -- estimated to be anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 a year, according to Igor Sikiric, executive director of the North Hempstead Solid Waste Management Authority.

Both of the landfills are regulated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the older of the two is also a federal Superfund site. Both sites have had remediation, including systems to control gas emissions.

For the plan to go forward, the town board must decide on a company this month to meet a Jan. 31 deadline by PSEG Long Island for its solar-energy purchasing program.

The town hired Massachusetts-based consultant TRC Environmental about two years ago at a cost of about $76,000 to explore uses of the landfills, Sikiric said.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who took office this month, said the town board will hold a special meeting on Tuesday evening to consider the plan.

"The questions that were asked were good questions," Bosworth said after the meeting. "I'm not coming into this with a predetermined outcome."

Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio, who represents the area, said she shared residents' concerns.

"I'm not sure that we should be voting on it," De Giorgio said. "What's the risk? Even if it's a small risk, is it worth it?"

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