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Currituck approves fourth solar energy facility

During a long November 16 Currituck County Board of Commissioners meeting, a fourth solar farm was approved, an outdoor tour operator licensing fee ordinance amended and action on a wastewater treatment facility use permit request was deferred to a later date.

With a focus on public safety issues, Currituck County commissioners moved slowly in approving a use permit for Oak Trail Solar, LLC to construct a 100-megawatt solar energy facility along Puddin Ridge and Cooper Garrett roads in Moyock.

“We learned the lessons the hard way,” advised Paul M. Beaumont.

Construction is planned for the former Jarvis Farm, a rural area which is typical for solar farms, and is expected to involve 878 of the project’s overall 1,229 acres.

When completed, the project will include access roads, fencing, inverters, transformers,  a collection system and photovoltaic panels on racking systems designed to follow the sun’s path across the sky in a roughly north-south direction. Energy generated will go from a substation to an existing Dominion Energy North Carolina transmission line. Plans also call for landscaping and mechanical maintenance plans with regular site monitoring visits.

The property is also expected to have an estimated tax increase on the land tax from $11,300 to $23,000 with an overall $130,000 value after development. The project is still in the design phase with construction not expected to start for 10 to 12 months.

After hearing from a dozen public speakers, with a majority of them in favor of the project, a motion to approve that included a requirement of reasonable access by county official officials, maintained access roads and fasteners torqued to specifications during construction was given unanimous approval.

The approval opens the door for Currituck’s fourth solar farm facility.

The first solar energy facility, near Moyock, began generating power in 2015. A second, smaller solar energy facility was completed on N.C. 34 across from Shawboro Elementary School and the third was constructed on the former Goose Creek Golf Course site in Grandy.

Revisiting an ordinance deferring tour operator license fee payments due to the impacts of COVID-19, the board approved an amendment ending deferred payments for 2020 and requiring annual fees be paid at 75 percent of the usual rate.

As a tour operator owner, Chairman Bob White was recused from discussion and consideration, but did speak briefly before stepping outside.

According to White, he discussed the impact of COVID restrictions with other operators and found one business down 30 percent and others down about 20 percent due to travel restrictions and social distancing requirements.

White pointed out, however, that while income was down, none of his other expenses – including fuel and payroll – went away.

Although it was approved on a 6-0 vote, county attorney Donald “Ike” McRee Jr. advised the fee reduction ordinance lowering the per vehicle charge of $950 down to $712.50 per vehicle will require a second reading.

After a county staff introduction for a request to expand a wastewater treatment facility, the action was tabled when it was announced that a key participant was absent due to COVID-19.

County documents show that the Eagle Creek private wastewater treatment plant at 287 Green View Road would like to increase capacity from 50,000 gpd to 350,000 gpd and take in customers from other adjoining properties. Doing so requires county officials issue a major utility use permit. The request will also need to be approved by NC Dept. of Environmental Quality and the NC Utilities Commission.

Mark Bissell, engineer with Bissell Professional Group, said he was willing to make a presentation in support of the request without legal counsel since the attorney scheduled to appear was in isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions.

When asked about Bissell presenting his qualifications, McRee advised that NC Bar guidelines allow only an attorney to represent a corporate entity at meetings like the one taking place.

solar farm

Mark Bissell at the Currituck County Board of Commissioners meeting. Currituck meeting screenshot

Although there might not be a consequence, proceeding could put Bissell in the position of practicing law without a license.

After a brief discussion, commissioners and Bissell agreed to table the request until the December 7 meeting.

In other business for the night, commissioners approved a Lower Currituck VFD budget amendment request for $8,000 toward a tanker repair and $7,300 for the Crawford VFD to make a light tower repair.

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