Two Solar Projects Could Hamper Flights at Watertown Airport

July 6, 2021

Jul. 6—DEXTER — Two solar projects on opposite sides of the Watertown airport are causing concerns that they could potentially interfere with the flight paths of aircraft.

Last week, the Jefferson County Planning Board expressed concerns about the two proposed solar projects, one that would be created east of the Watertown International Airport in Dexter and the other west of the airport in the town of Watertown.

DPC Central Rivers Power LLC is proposing a 20 megawatt solar project on 50 acres of farmland at 16472 state Route 12F, along state Route 180, and needs to get a site plan approved for the project west of the airport.

Meanwhile, Watertown Renewable LLC needs to have a zoning change for its project at 22088 Floral Drive, just east of the airport. The developer would need the planning board to change the zone from R-3 to Neighborhood Commercial.

County Planning Board members are concerned that reflection from the solar panels could disrupt pilots as their aircraft fly directly over the two proposed solar projects.

Senior Planner Andy R. Nevin said he discussed the Floral Drive project with airport staff about the "glare" issues but he was told that they should not impose a problem. The solar panels will not move with the daily movement of the sun, he said.

Matthew Cervini, a managing engineer with GYMO, said the Central Rivers Power project would be completed in two phases. Mr. Nevin suggested that a portion of the Phase 2 project be moved so it would not interfere with the airport since it's closer to it.

Planning Board member Randy Lake said it was ironic that two solar projects were being proposed at the same time on both sides of the airport.

Calling it "a quality of life issue," Mr. Lake also wonders about having so many solar projects being built on farmland in the county in recent years.

"I'm thinking about our grandchildren," he said. "I'm thinking about what they think about them (in the future)."

County Planning Board members also questioned the impact solar projects would have on losing prime agricultural land in the county. While the county doesn't have a policy regarding farmland, the goal is that the county's best farmland comprises less than 10 percent on individual solar projects, Mr. Nevin said.

In the past year, the county Planning Department and the Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board have sent a letter to the county board of legislature recommending that a policy be established that would determine how to protect prime agricultural land.

The Jefferson County Industrial Development Agency is also studying the issue.


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