School district to mitigate solar panels
THIS IS A RENDERING of what the landscaping could look like along a fence on Railroad Avenue to hide a solar panel farm.
Neighbors are taking a wait-and-see attitude abut the proposed landscaping to mask the on-the-ground solar panels the Sonoma Valley Unified School District has installed on Railroad Avenue and at Adele Harrison Middle School.
At the last school board meeting on Aug. 9, neighbors from both sites complained that they didn't know the units were going in and weren't informed about what sort of mitigation the school district was going to do.
Deputy Superintendent Justin Frese and a landscape architect met separately with neighbors from both sites the following week, and there will be at least one more meeting with each set of neighbors.
About 15 neighbors from the vicinity of the district office met with Frese and were more interested in learning the whys and whats of the project than in the mitigation.
"This was the first opportunity for some of those people to voice their concerns," Frese said.
That sentiment was echoed by Anne Phillips, one of the neighbors who also attended the school board meeting.
"It seems that the others were more concerned with issues other than the landscaping," Phillips said. But she said the neighbors did meet again as a group on Aug. 27.
Phillips lives across Railroad Avenue from the solar panels and showed pictures to the school board of the reflections off the panels at around dusk.
She said proposed landscaping plans were emailed to her and the neighbors. "But I still feel that it didn't solve the problem that we need solved - the reflection," she said.
"The say they've got $20,000 to do the landscaping," she added. "I don't think that's enough money."
And Phillips said in addition to the panels, storage of equipment and materials in the field across the street by the construction company doing the installation has created "an eyesore."
Phillips is also interested in what sort of permits the school district needed for the projects.
"Did they do a soil test," she asked. "Over the years, the district has brought in dirt from other sites. What's in that dirt? And the dust has been horrible."
The district presented three plans that will have a combination of shrubs, bushes and trees, Frese said. The trees would eventually be 12-feet-to-15-feet tall.
"We're not going to use a solid hedge or have vines on the fence," Frese said. "We're going to come in with revised plans at the next meeting."
Phillips said she received only three letters from the school district - one last year saying there would be a cover crop planted for the garden, the second in May with no particulars saying the solar project was starting and the last one was about the Aug. 15 meeting with Frese and the landscape architect.
"We're not against the solar project," she said. "Only how it was handled."
And she said a real estate agent told her their property values dropped 20 percent.
Nancie Ligon, one of the neighbors from the Adele Harrison site, said the district had made promises in the past when the school was built. "I'll hold my breath and wait," she said.
She said the proposed landscaping isn't going to block their view of the nearby panels, but admitted it might mitigate some of the damages.
When told that the landscaping would take two-to-three years to mature, she said "I'll be satisfied when I see the results."
In addition to the view, she's also concerned about the flooding that could occur when a retention pond that the panels are in floods.
"They're telling us it won't flood," she said. "They promised excavation to make the pond bigger." She added that when the pond was built, the district promised to put plants and trees around it and make it a green area, but that was never done.
Ligon also doesn't think the district can landscape the two areas for $20,000. "That's ludicrous," she said.
Despite her misgivings, Ligon said she "has to believe what they're telling us will happen."
Frese said the district also won't use a single hedge at Adele, that it will use a combination of things. "We're looking for something that won't mature in 18 months," he said. "We're looking at things that will mature in three-to-five years and be there for a long time."