The Town of New Milford has reached a settlement in its lawsuit challenging the Connecticut Siting Council’s 2017 approval of Candlewood Solar LLC’s development and management plans for a 20 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic electric generating facility on a sensitive Candlewood Mountain site.
Cramer & Anderson Municipal Law Partner Dan Casagrande, who represents the Town in conjunction with Partner and New Milford Town Attorney Randy DiBella, was able through the settlement to limit the scope of the project dramatically to a 4 MW facility—one-fifth of the size approved by the Siting Council and also much smaller than the revised scope proposed amid a rough regulatory review process.
Moreover, the settlement confines the project to a 75-acre developable envelope within the 163-acre site in a way that limits the environmental and ecological impacts of a project criticized by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) and environmental watchdog agencies for its potential to devastate mature forestland and key wildlife habitat.
Attorney Casagrande also reached a related similar settlement between Candlewood Solar and the citizens group Rescue Candlewood Mountain, et al, in its more-than-three-year court challenge of the Siting Council approval.
“The persistence of the Town and Rescue Candlewood Mountain in fighting against the environmental devastation that would have been caused by the original proposed plant has paid off handsomely,” Attorney Casagrande said. “These agreements commit Candlewood Solar to forever preserving almost 90 acres of Candlewood Mountain as conservation land, and prevent Candlewood Solar from ever seeking approvals for more than the drastically reduced 4 megawatt plant.”
“The agreements also call for the creation of a public walking trail on the property, connecting to the Blue Trail, and, if the property is sold, Candlewood Solar will provide $20,000 for improvements to the public parking area leading to the trail at the corner of Route 37 and Candlewood Mountain Road,” Attorney Casagrande continued. “The agreements also may result in substantial savings to New Milford taxpayers by allowing the Town to seek state approval to purchase electricity from the plant at below market prices for up to 40 years.”
“Our goal from the beginning has been to protect valuable environmental resources on Candlewood Mountain. Thanks to the support of the Town Council and the efforts of Rescue Candlewood Mountain, we have achieved an optimal outcome for the residents and taxpayers of New Milford,” Mayor Pete Bass said.
Speaking for Rescue Candlewood Mountain, Liba Furhman said, “Our goal has always been to protect the sensitive environment of the Candlewood area and to limit impacts on the Lake and neighboring properties. This drastic reduction in the size and scope of the plant, together with the guarantees that are in place for us and the Town to review and provide input to the final plans, are a win for all of New Milford.”
Key components of the settlements include the following:
- Candlewood Solar shall not develop or seek any approval for any facility larger [than 4 megawatts] … and shall seek Siting Council approval to amend its plan to reflect the new configuration, location and boundaries of the project.
- Candlewood Solar shall pursue necessary approvals … through the General Permit process at the [DEEP], and the Town and Rescue Candlewood Mountain (RCM) retain the right to submit comments to DEEP … in any General Permit or Individual Permit proceeding.
- If the Town and RCM determine in consultation with its engineering consultants that the Project’s stormwater and environmental designs are acceptable, the Town and Rescue will not object to or oppose the 4 MW project before DEEP, the Siting Council, and other public agencies.
- Candlewood Solar agrees that it shall continue to negotiate in good faith with the [Town, RCM] and other interested parties for the sale, restriction, or other conveyance of the undevelopable portion of the 163-acre site for purposes of conserving it in perpetuity.
- Candlewood Solar agrees that any sale of the developable portion of the solar power project property to a third party shall be conditioned on the buyer’s agreement to permanently preserve the undevelopable portion, and that there will be a designated public walking path from the summit of Candlewood Mountain to the Candlewood Mountain Blue Trail trailhead.
- Candlewood Solar agrees as part of any sale to improve the existing trailhead parking area at the intersection of Route 39 and Candlewood Mountain Road at a cost not to exceed $20,000.
- Candlewood Solar agrees that, if it does not succeed in finalizing the sale or conveyance of the developable portion to a third party, it nevertheless shall not develop or seek any approval for the development of the undevelopable portion.
- The developable portion shall not exceed 75 acres.
- Candlewood Solar’s obligation to convey or preserve any portion of the property for conservation purposes shall terminate and be of no further force and effect in the event that Candlewood Solar’s applications for approval of a 4 MW solar facility … are rejected either by DEEP or the Siting Council; in that event Candlewood Solar shall be free to seek approval for development of the property as permitted pursuant to local and state land use regulations.
- If DEEP and Siting Council approval are granted, however, Candlewood Solar shall permanently set aside at least the undevelopable portion as passive open space.
- Candlewood Solar shall use its best efforts to help qualify the Town, under any applicable state authorized program, to purchase electricity from the 4 MW plant (if approved) at below-market prices to be negotiated, in such amounts as so authorized and deemed reasonably necessary … .
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