By TAYLOR HARTZ
After nearly 8 months, a final decision has been made to allow the installation of a solar panel array on the meadow neighboring Hatton Elementary School.
On Jan. 13, Judge Robert E. Young of the New Britain Judicial Court brought an end to the lengthy battle between the Town of Southington, Greenskies, LLC, of Middletown, and the Save Hatton Meadow Coalition (SHMC) by dismissing the case.
In May of 2014, the Southington Town Council voted to approve the Middletown energy company as the vendor for the installation of a 2-acre solar panel on the municipal property—a decision that has resulted in one lawsuit, an injunction, one attempt to disqualify the town attorney, two motions to dismiss, an ethics complaint and appeal, and a resignation from the Board of Ethics.
In an attempt to continue a town-wide effort for energy conservation, a solar-panel array was planned for the land next to Hatton Elementary School, and a Power Purchase Agreement was entered with Greenskies to provide the energy needed for the school.
Represented by Attorney David Rosenberg, Southington resident Richard Panek and members of the SHMC turned to the court to prevent the installation from destroying the meadow.
Construction of the solar array was set to being on July 27, 2015, but an injunction was issued by the court just days before, preventing the start of the project.
On Oct. 20, attorneys for the town and Greenskies filed a motion to dismiss the case altogether, asserting that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, because the plaintiffs, did not bring their objections to the project before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA.)
After hearing oral arguments from both parties on Jan. 4, the court granted the defendant’s motion, and dismissed the case.
While the SHMC argued that the town and Greenskies improperly obtained their permit for the project, the judge ruled that the court had no jurisdiction over the matter.
Judge Young stated in his decision that because members of the SHMC did not appeal the to the ZBA, they had not “exhausted their administrative remedies” before bringing the case before the court.
The dismissal of the case lifts the injunction preventing the start of construction, and allows the project to continue as planned. However, Town Manager Garry Brumback said the town hopes they can come to a compromise.
Brumback said that in the summer of 2015, the town tried to find a solution that would appease resident complaints by asking Greenskies if half of the solar array could be placed on the roof of Hatton Elementary School in an effort to preserve some of the meadow land.
At the time, the energy company and town agreed that splitting the array would not make financial sense.
Brumback said that in December, the town asked Greenskies to revisit the option, and the company informed the town that, with changes in recent technology, a more expensive solar panel may be able to be installed on the roof.
The town will continue to explore that option.
“Even though the court case was thrown out, we’re still committed to reducing the footprint on the ground if we are able,” said Brumback.
Although changing their original plans is not a requirement, Brumback said the town hopes to reach a compromise that is in the best interest of all Southington residents and begin construction on the solar array this summer.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.