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Residents say proposed energy storage facility is worthy project, but in wrong location

A debate is brewing over whether a two-acre property along Route 25 in Greenport that’s been eyed for preservation is a suitable location for an 80-megawatt battery storage facility.

During a public hearing before the Southold Town Zoning Board of Appeals Thursday, the consensus was clear among several residents who voiced their concerns on the proposal: it’s a worthy project, but in the wrong location.

Speaking on behalf of several local civic and environmental groups, Greenport resident Randy Wade said the facility should not be located near ecologically sensitive wetland areas and urged the ZBA to reject all variances associated with the proposal.

Kansas City based energy storage company Savion is eyeing the property, located across the street from Drosso’s Motel, for a battery storage facility that would be interconnected to a nearby LIPA substation.

The project requires a special exception permit from the town ZBA.

Ms. Wade also noted that $12.7 million has been invested over time to preserve 325 acres that surround the property and the facility would be visible from the Bay to Sound trail that’s nearing completion. Town, county and state entities have also targeted the property for preservation.

Steven Losquadro, an attorney for the applicants, argued in his presentation Thursday that the proposed ‘BESS’ is a relatively low-impact proposal compared to what would be allowed to be built on the property due to its Light-Industrial zoning classification. He cited examples of boatyards, contractor yards and repair shops. 

“All of the things that would come with those uses … are much more intense and much more impactful than the rather benign use Suffolk County Energy Storage II proposes as part of this green, clean energy technology,” Mr. Losquadro said.

Though Ms. Wade agreed that the new technology was a better alternative to expanding fossil fuel-reliant plants, she believes industrial zoning in that area is “completely outdated,” and worth rezoning.

Environmental concerns were echoed by several other speakers including Jennifer Hartnagel, senior environmental associate at Group for the East End, who called for an additional environmental review of the project.

“We’d like the focus to be on serious consideration of alternative sites to house this battery storage facility,” she said. “We cannot underestimate the ecological value of the parcel.” 

Elaine Fredriksson, whose family has owned Drossos for 70 years, said she’s worried about noise impacts the project may have on her property. 

“When it gets very calm and quiet, the way we all love it, we are going to hear that hum for hours on end and what is it going to do to our environment, to our peace of mind and to my business?” she asked.

Officials from Savion said the ambient noise would be minimal compared to the noise that emanates from traffic along Main Road. “It likely would not be noticeable,” said Jason Funk, director of permitting and environmental for Savion.

“We could probably do an additional look at this and predict how far out 40 dBa or 30, but once you get into those levels you’re talking about a library. It’s extremely quiet,” he added.

In addition to environmental issues, safety and fire risk was also a concern raised at the hearing, though Savion executives said fires and explosions are statistically rare. Director of energy storage Reid Strain said in addition to fire suppression and monitoring systems, the team would follow guidelines set forth by the National Fire Protection Association as well as New York State.

“On top of that, we work very closely with the first responders to make sure there’s a safety response plan [to mitigate risks],” Mr. Strain said.

Officials from the energy company said they were sensitive to environmental concerns raised during the hearing and vowed to work to properly screen the project to minimize visual impacts both from the road and surrounding wooded areas and wetlands.

“We’re looking to address those concerns,” Mr. Funk said. “We’re extremely forward thinking when it comes to environmental concerns and developing a site like this in a prudent matter.”

Speaking in support of the proposal, property owner Jon Divello said he didn’t think there were any negative environmental projects and disputed concerns over flood risk, arguing that a house on the property has never flooded.

“I’m born and raised here and during [Superstorm Sandy] we didn’t have power for 13 days,” Mr. DiVello said. “So this is needed.”

The ZBA chose to keep the hearing open as they await input from the town Planning Board and further comment from the public. The hearing will continue March 4.