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Monday, October 5, 2020

Let's make a deal for $802,000

Green Development Settles with Coventry Over Solar Facility

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The Coventry Department of Planning & Development issued Mark DePasquale two cease-and-desist orders in June 2019 for commencing the construction of a proposed ground-mounted solar facility in western Coventry without town approval. (Kevin LaRose/YouTube)

The town and a litigious renewable-energy developer have resolved their differences and are moving forward with a disputed ground-mounted solar facility.

The agreement will allow Green Development LLC to build a proposed ground-mounted solar project in western Coventry, and the town will receive $802,000. All claims and lawsuits instigated by either party have been dropped. The agreement also includes a mutual understanding by each party not to sue or participate in future litigation.

“I’m pleased to report we have resolved all ongoing disputes with Green Development without the costly burden of going to court,” Town Council president Kerry McGee is quoted as saying in a press release sent by Green Development. “The settlement is fair for all parties and it allows the town to move forward and secure a new revenue stream along the way.”

The saga of the originally proposed 5.22-megawatt solar array began in late 2016, when the North Kingstown-based developer was cited for destroying wetlands at the proposed project site.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issued a cease-and-desist order to stop all activities within freshwater wetlands on the property. A visit by DEM two months later found additional damage to wetlands. In all, nearly 2 acres of wetlands had been cleared, stumped, excavated, filled, and graded.

Mark DePasquale, the founder of Green Development, was fined $40,000 by DEM for the damage.

In late November 2017, the Planning Commission deemed the project inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and denied the application.

The committee found that the parcels at 394 Carr’s Trail and 5641 Flat River Road detracted from efforts to preserve the rural and agricultural character of the low-density residential zone. The Zoning Board of Review also ruled against the application, citing that the large commercial project caused fragmentation and was unsuitable for the area.

In January 2018, DEM’s Office of Water Resources issued a permit for a ground-mounted solar array for two lots at the 107-acre site. The project, however, never received local approval.

DePasquale appealed the town’s ruling to Kent County Superior Court in May 2018. Judge Jeffrey Lanphear affirmed the town’s decision on Aug. 7, 2019.

DePasquale, however, didn’t heed the town’s decision, and before the judge’s ruling went ahead with initial construction of the solar array. The unapproved work involved the use of a pile driver to install a field of steel posts.

In early June 2019, the town’s Department of Planning & Development issued a cease-and-desist order for the unauthorized installation and ordered DePasquale to remove hundreds of steel pile posts. The steel posts were allowed to stay after the town issued a second order that required DePasquale to halt all work on the property except landscape and cleanup activities.

DePasquale then sued Coventry for $85 million for allegedly denying and stymieing his company’s solar projects.

DePasquale also filed a $200 million lawsuit in March against the town of Exeter for the loss of potential revenue as a result of town officials rejecting Green Development solar projects. That lawsuit is ongoing.

In a separate case, the court sided with Exeter on April 20 over an appeal of a decision by the town to reject a 7-acre solar facility proposed by Green Development.

 Green Development’s original plan for its western Coventry solar project called for a 5-megawatt installation behind a therapy farm. (Green Development)

Retired Rhode Island Supreme Court chief justice Frank Williams mediated the recent settlement with Coventry.

Edward Warzycha, Coventry’s interim town manager, didn’t respond to multiple requests for information about the settlement, including how the money will be received and spent.

While the town will not oppose the permitting of the now 3.75-megwatt solar facility, McGee said the project must still go through a detailed and thorough review.

“All permitting has been and will be conducted in a professional and timely manner with our statutes and ordinances as the guide,” she said. “We will fully embrace all elements of this agreement and are glad to be able to secure a major financial boost for the town.”

The original site plan for the solar project was paired with a therapy farm that would serve people with special needs.

Green Development spokesperson Bill Fischer said the the Coventry settlement should influence an outcome with Exeter.

“We remain hopeful that officials in Exeter will see how productive and efficient the Coventry mediation process was for all concerned parties and consider the same path,” he said.