Solar panel construction delayed by the court

Members of the Community Coalition to Save Hatton discuss plans for solar panels on Hatton Meadow during a press conference on Berlin Drive on July 9.

Members of the Community Coalition to Save Hatton discuss plans for solar panels on Hatton Meadow during a press conference on Berlin Drive on July 9.

By TAYLOR HARTZ
STAFF WRITER

An injunction was issued on Friday, July 24 to prevent Greenskies, LLC, of Middletown, from beginning work on a 2.1-acre solar panel installation on Hatton Meadow.

Last month, members of the community surrounding Hatton Meadow formed the Save Hatton Meadow Coalition (SHMC) in an attempt to halt the installation until the town considers other locations.

After appealing to the Town Council on June 22 and July 13, SHMC member Richard Panek obtained documents, emails, and meeting minutes concerning the installation, requested through the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

The town council voted on July 13 in a 5-4 vote to waive the 50-cent per-page fee associated with Panek’s FOI request.

Panek received the FOI documents on Friday, and reviewed what he described as a “24-inch high stack of paper” with members of the coalition.

Later that day, Attorney David Rosenberg filed a complaint and a request for injunctive relief, which was granted on Friday by Judge Sweinton.

Rosenberg, who has been representing the coalition for approximately 10 days, said he was approached by members of the community and asked to look over the actions of the Town Council and Planning and Zoning Commission.

He then contacted Town Attorney Mark Sciota, who provided him with paperwork regarding municipal approval of the project.

“The forms themselves did not make any sense to me. This was an expedited process,” said Rosenberg, who explained that the process was done through an 8-24 referral under a Connecticut statute having to do with municipal improvements.

Rosenberg said he then questioned why the agreement with Greenskies had not gone through the regular zoning process regarding filing, mapping, environmental reports, and public hearings. According to Rosenberg, town officials felt the process had been handled appropriately.

Rosenberg suggested that the town conduct a modified hearing and briefing schedule, since the purchase agreement the town filed with Greenskies calls for a start date of September 2016.

Panek hopes that the injunction will give members of the coalition, and town officials, time to step back and review the process the town went through to reach this agreement with Greenskies.

He said the information included in the FOI request revealed “disturbing information” concerning “actual savings verses hypothetical projections” that the green energy partnership with Greenskies will bring to the town.

Town officials have said previously that the solar installation on Hatton Meadow will save the town $400,000 to $800,000.

“I think some members of the council are going to be very surprised about what they find out,” said Bonnie Sica, a member of the coalition, after reviewing the FOI documents.

The SHMC will continue looking into a potential conflict of interest involving Town Councilor Tom Lombardi and Greenskies Board of Directors Chairman Rob Landino, and are now pursuing information on “the misapplication and deliberate misuse” of the state of Connecticut statue 8-24.

According to a press release, the coalition believes the town and Greenskies used this statute to avoid public hearings and claim exemptions from zoning regulations, claiming “municipal improvement” via the solar panel installation.

The coalition has created a website with the slogan “Do not destroy green space for the sake of green energy,” where they are encouraging individuals to email town council members to share their support for saving the meadow.

In addition to serving as a source of information, the coalition is using the site to promote their crowdsourcing efforts to pay for legal representation – they have received 16 donations in 8 days, raising just over $2 thousand.

Rosenberg hopes to keep the temporary injunction in place “until the municipal process is decided.”

Both sides will appear in court next week, at a full hearing scheduled for 2 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 3 at the New Britain Superior Court.

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