Some 42 acres of trees would have to be cleared to make way for the project, which could also threaten marbled salamanders and other creatures that breed in a vernal pool on the site.
TIVERTON — The rain was pouring down Saturday morning but it didn’t delay a site walk of the proposed Brayton Road Solar project on South Brayton Road that, if approved, would be the biggest to be reviewed to date under the town’s former solar ordinance.
A new solar ordinance is being drafted to offer more protection for woodland and farms in light of a rush of proposals last year for vast amounts of farmland and forests to be transformed into “solar farms.”
The town still has huge areas of undeveloped land, forests and underutilized farmland.
The 63-acre Brayton Road Solar project would be on 101 acres on the east side of South Brayton Road. In years past, the property was used primarily for farming, but now is largely vacant except for a golden retriever breeding business at 394 Brayton Road, a small barn with goats, a horse barn and grazing fields.
Susan Anderson, chairwoman of the town’s Historic Preservation Advisory Board, said a house on the south end of the property dates back to the late 1700s.
She accompanied Planning Board Chairwoman Susan Gill, and members Rosemary Eva and Paul Amaral on the site walk that was led by forester Marc Tremblay and wildlife biologist Brandon Faneuf and staff from DiPrete Engineering.
The dirt road leading to the open fields that make up about 20 acres of the property is lined with stone walls. Stands of trees, some less than two decades old and others as old as a century, according to forester Marc Tremblay, make up more than 40 acres of the 63 acres that would house the ground solar array.
Anderson said 10,281 trees would have to be cut down to make way for the solar panels.
All of those trees are “4 inches in diameter and up,” Tremblay said, and the oldest ones, which are primarily oak and beech, have mostly been decimated by winter moth and gypsy moth and are dead or dying.
Some 42 acres of trees would have to be cleared, Nicole Manephy, an environmental engineer with Sage Engineering, said during a recent presentation. Open fields make up about 19.6 acres of the property. She said 2.4 acres is used for residences. There’s also 19 acres of wetlands on the property that would not be disturbed.
Marianne Diffin, an engineer with DiPrete Engineering, said she could not say how many solar panels would be placed on the 63 acres because they come in carrying sizes. “Now there’s a shortage,” she said of solar panels being in short supply because of the number of solar installations.
Amaral said he has suggested to the Planning Board that they visit a solar array that is comparable in size to the 63 acre array proposed for the Brayton Road Solar project.
There is one in Hopkinton, Diffin said.
Tremblay and Faneuf were asked to be present because the Planning Board had questions about the trees that had to be cut and whether marbled salamanders bred on the property.
Faneuf said he did find one vernal pool in the southwest corner of the property that measures about a quarter acre. Marbled salamanders breed in the fall and the eggs are already hatched by spring when other creatures are just laying their eggs, so he did not expect to find any eggs from them. He did find masses of eggs in the vernal pool that are likely spotted salamander or wood frog.
Besides the Brayton Road Solar project, the Planning Board is also in the process of continuing to review plans for a 19-acre solar array on the 70-acre Cook Farm at 4366 Main Road, and a 40-acre solar array on the 72-acre Wingover Farm at 1519 Crandall Road.
Several other parcels in town are being eyed by other companies for solar arrays.
The Brayton Road Solar project will be back on the Planning Board’s agenda on May 7.