2,000 Trees Could be Cut for Solar-Powered Quarry
Residents fear project may worsen flooding from Sourland Mountain runoff.
A hearing will continue next month on a plan to chop down more than 2,000 trees on Sourland Mountain to construct a solar array that will power operations at the Gibraltar Quarry.
Though the entrance to the 750-acre quarry is on Belle Mead-Blawenberg Road in Montgomery, the 9,996-panel solar array will be located on the mountain in Hillsborough off Dutchtown-Zion Road. About 500 acres of the quarry, formerly owned by The 3M Co., are in Hillsborough and 200 acres are in Montgomery.
About two dozen residents attended a Planning Board meeting on Thursday evening on the project proposed by Gibraltar Quarry and KDC Solar of Bedminster.
The project has previously been reviewed by the Somerset County Planning Board and the township Environment Commission.
Much of Thursday's meeting centered on the wastewater runoff from the 20-acre facility and whether there was an alternate location for it on the quarry property.
The only witness to testify on Thursday was Mark Lukasik, an engineer with Tectonic Engineering; future witnesses include representatives from Gibraltar, KDC Solar, an environmental expert and a forestry expert. Gibraltar has an agreement to buy the electricity from KDC over a 20-year period, with an option to renew for another five years, Lukasik said.
Lukasik said the panels, to be installed by KDC Solar, will generate 2.3 megawatts of power for the operation at the quarry. The solar panels will be located on 7.5 acres of the 20-acre site. Lukasik said the additional room is necessary so the 100-foot trees in the area would have enough room to topple without hitting the panels. The panels, on concrete pads, will be 5 to 8 feet off the ground, he said.
Lukasik said solar arrays should have a southern exposure to maximize their effectiveness and be free of shadows. He said three locations were considered before deciding on a site with a 10 percent slope near an existing tailings pile.
The solar array will have two transformers, about 1,400 from the nearest homes on Dutchtown-Zion Road, and be connected by overhead wires to a substation on the entrance road, Lukasik said.
The engineer said the solar array, because of the slope and the surrounding trees, would not be visible from Belle Mead-Blawenberg Road. He said the panels would not be reflecting sunlight because “if they’re reflecting light, they’re not operating.”
Board Engineer Bill Buzby said his “main concern” about the proposal was whether the proposed drainage system, which includes a retention basin, has “sufficient capacity” to handle the runoff. Buzby said both the Somerset County Planning Board and the Somerset-Union Soil Conservation District had similar concerns.
Lukasik, who said the runoff would be channeled toward Dutchtown-Zion Road, said he was preparing new calculations to answer the concerns.
“We’ll have to do additional mathematics,” he said, adding that the proposal meets with the township’s ordinance.
But Lukasik’s assurances didn’t assuage neighborhood residents.
Richard Miner, who’s lived on Dutchtown-Zion Road, for 40 years, said the runoff from the mountain is already “severe” and flood waters cause the road to be be “repaired almost more than any other road in the county.” He feared the area “will be washed out even more so.”
Jim Reznik, of Long Hill Road, said there already are “major problems” with flooding on the roads and he feared more flooding. “You’re putting more water back into the small streams,” he said.
Planning Board Chairman Steven Sireci Jr. said the Enviromental Commission had expressed its concern about the “high velocity runoff" from the site that could lead to erosion problems.
Environmental Commission member Bill Dondiego said he had walked the site and asked Lukasik if an area near the entrance road to the quarry in Montgomery could be used for the solar facility. He noted there were fewer trees in that section of the property.
“When I walked the site, we saw something extremely different,” he said.
But Lukasik said the development of that site could result in the same amount of disturbance as the site up the mountain.
The hearing will continue on June 14.
Since 2009, Gibraltar Rock has conveyed 734 acres at the quarry to Somerset County as part of the Sourland Mountain Preserve. That is more than half of the 1,440 acres Gibraltar acquired in 2009 from The 3M Co.
“The sale of this property to Somerset County continues Silvi’s practice of partnering with state and county agencies to preserve land in perpetuity rather than developing it,” Laurence J. Silvi II, co-owner of the Silvi Group Companies, for which Gibraltar Rock is a member, said last September when the company announced the sale of 355 acres to the county.