Tempers flare over solar lawsuit

Sep 11

ROCHESTER - A “simple modification” to the Borrego Solar site plan turned testy at Tuesday night’s Planning Board meeting, as tempers flared over a lawsuit.

In May, the board issued an amended special permit for a large-scale photovoltaic development at the site. The decision came after months of contentious meetings between neighbors, the board and Borrego.

After the decision was issued, abutters filed a lawsuit to the superior court, specifically naming the members of the Planning Board, and requesting money for damages.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Borrego representative Steve Long was in front of the board asking for approval on landscaping modifications. He said that if the board approved them, it would appease the neighbors who in turn would drop the lawsuit. Essentially, he said, the board just had to decide it was a minor change to the plan and approve it and the suit would disappear.

This didn’t sit well with Planning Board member Ben Bailey.

“Where is the paperwork?” Bailey asked. “I have no official communication to rely on. This was a personal complaint…I’m supposed to sit here and take the word of those people with no document in hand that they’re going to do the right thing.”

Chair Arnie Johnson confirmed to Bailey that he had spoken to the town’s attorney, Bailey’s brother Blair Bailey, and that there are safeguards in place.

“He has reviewed the settlement agreement,” Johnson said. “I had a conversation with him tonight…If we do approve this the lawsuits against us individually and the town will be dismissed through a filing with the court.”

Bailey, however, wasn’t satisfied. Planning Board member Gary Florindo took out his cell phone, dialed Blair’s number, and handed the phone to Bailey.

After speaking to his brother, Bailey continued to disagree, and said he wouldn’t vote for it.

“I’m going to have to get my own attorney’s opinion,” he said.

Ultimately, the members of the board did agree that the landscaping changes, which would add more shrubs and low-lying plants to hide the berm and fence, were all minor modifications.

“Putting the lawsuit aside, in my opinion, this is a minor modification to the plan,” Planning Board member Mike Murphy said. “And that’s what he’s here asking us about.”

The board, except for Bailey, voted to approve the changes and all members subsequently voted to raise the cost of the landscape bond and the five-year maintenance agreement bond.