By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Three years after a first try, Gibraltar Rock had almost clear sailing Nov. 19 for approval of an 11-acre solar array to generate electricity for its quarrying operation on Route 601 on the Sourland Mountain ridge.
The Planning Board unanimously endorsed the proposal, which impressed board member Michael Merdinger as “the right place for it.”
The approval means about 10,000 fixed three-by-six-foot solar panels will cover an area slightly larger than the Woods Road School and property, by way of comparison. It will connect to the electrical system on the site.
In 2012 Gibraltar applied for permission to cut down 20 acres of trees in order to install solar panels to generate electricity for the 550-acre quarrying operation near the Montgomery-Hillsborough border.
The company withdrew the application in face of opposition to the loss of an estimated 2,800 trees, as well as potential stormwater drainage problems. This time Gibraltar proposes to cut down virtually no trees and cover no more land with impervious surface that could increase runoff.
The proposal faced token opposition from resident Peg Van Patton, who came armed with questions about wetlands, dangers to habitat, setbacks, the thin layer of soil on the mound and the impact of quarry blasting.
The applicant, KDC Solar, in conjunction with the property owner Gibraltar, “re-evaluated the location” in the last few years and will locate an approximately 3-megawatt array to top of the rounded tailings pile of byproduct crushed rock at the top of the ridge.
In the 2012 application, Gibraltar said it didn’t think the tailings pile — a rounded, grassy, 100-foot-high, 1,000 feet in diameter area at the top of the ridgeline, was technically unsuited and unstable to support a solar array.
The area is free of trees, so the amount of disturbance is less than one acre and the increase in impervious surface less than one-quarter of an acre — therefore requiring no stormwater management, according to engineer Robert Moschello of Gladstone Design.
The Sourland Conservancy, a citizen environmental watchdog group, only sent a letter saying it would not oppose the application.
“We thank the applicant for his willingness to relocate the solar facility to the top of the mountain,” read the letter signed by Michele Donato, the conservancy’s attorney. “This is a better solution for the property owner and for the Sourland Mountain, and we thank your client for his willingness to consider reasonable alternatives.”
In 2012, the proposal suggested cutting down trees for a slightly smaller array to generate 2.3 megawatts of energy, plus another 6 acres of surrounding trees in order to avoid shading and having limbs of 100-foot-high trees fall on the panels.
Mr. Moschello’s application says the increase in system size “is a result of increase in electrical usage by the owner.”
More geotechnical investigations showed the tailings pile can support the solar array, the applicant said.
The 11.2 acres of the solar array will be surrounded by an 8-foot high fence. The only late change to the plans was to satisfy the fire marshal’s request for a road cutting diagonally through the array.
Solar panels will be designed with textured glass to reduce reflectivity, and put at such an angle to minimize glare, the application said. Mr. Moschello testified the panels won’t create a glare to the public below the high point on the ridge.
Solar panels would be supported by galvanized steel posts driven into ground about 3 to 6 feet deep.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor