POWHATAN – The Powhatan County Board of Supervisors was flummoxed last week when a public hearing on a solar farm application took an unexpected turn.
During the board’s meeting on Monday, Sept. 23, a public hearing on a request for a conditional use permit (CUP) for Powhatan Solar I LLC took a strange turn based not on the merits of the solar farm but on the question of who actually owns the land where it would be located.
The solar farm project is proposed for land along Three Bridge Road near its intersection with Mill Mount Parkway and at the northern terminus of Brauer Road. The subject properties total approximately 927.38 acres, with the proposed use located within a project area that is approximately 350.9 acres. About 225 acres would be occupied by solar arrays.
Parker Sloan represented Cypress Creek Renewables with a presentation on its proposed solar farm along Three Bridge Road. The proposed project would reach a maximum capacity of 18 megawatts and would likely be built over a six to 10 month period beginning in late 2020.
During the public hearing for the case, siblings Forrest and Anna Ranson asked the board to defer the case a month because they are part owners of a portion of the land included in the solar project. Forrest Ranson said when his dad, Rick, died in 2012, he left sizeable real estate holdings to his sister and himself and made his aunt, Tamara Anderson, trustee since they were both minors. They are now both over 21, he said.
The trust was split into subtrusts, with each sibling owning 50 percent, he said. The siblings said they did not know about the solar deal until recently when they learned about the clear cutting of the land, and they have requested their aunt provide them “detailed information about the trusts, the real estate, and entity holdings, receipts and dispersements and the solar project.”
He claimed his aunt and her lawyer “have resisted our requests and we have received no meaningful data or analysis as to how this project will impact our trusts.” He said they have hired an attorney who will file suit seeking full disclosure of all trust matters.
Forrest Ranson pointed out three places in the application where Tamara Anderson and her husband, David, are listed as owners, which he said is incorrect. He and his sister are not listed and nor are the limited liability companies (LLCs) that own some or all of the land.
“We are not asking the board to get involved with a family squabble. We are merely pointing out that the application is and always has been legally insufficient and flawed, and we who bear 50 percent of the benefits and burdens of the proposed solar farm have been given no information as to whether it is in our best interests,” he said. “We are not able to say at this time whether we support or oppose the project and this ordinance. It is possible that once we are given the facts, as required by law, we will come back in October and give our support.”
Chair Angie Cabell, who represents District 3, suspended the public hearing to allow time to consult county attorney Tom Lacheney on how they should proceed.
The attorney pointed out that the county ordinance says “all owners of the property must sign the application.” When the application was accepted, it was represented that David and Tamara Anderson were the owners. Looking them up in the county records, he saw the properties were actually owned by three different LLCs – Rancks LLC, Bridge Lake LLC, and Traeland LLC.
If the Andersons are not the sole beneficial owners of the LLCs, Lacheney said he sees a problem because the application does not contain accurate information. If it is not accurate, the CUP could be subject to revocation, he said.
David Anderson told the board his wife, Tamara, is the sole operating manager for the three LLCs that own the parcels associated with the solar project. She is the sole legal official and individual accountable to conduct business for those three LLCs, including the right to lease property, he said.
While it took awhile to get it straight, the board ultimately decided to follow Lacheney’s recommendation of letting the applicants resubmit their application with the LLCs correctly listed as the owners and deferring any decisions that night.
However, they also followed the suggestion of David Williams, District 1, to finish the public hearing and address board questions.
When the Powhatan Solar I LLC solar project was before the planning commission, one of the major concerns of one member, Bill Cox, was that the buffer measures proposed to hide the view of the panels from Three Bridge Road would not fully be effective for several years. He was ultimately the lone vote against the project in a 3-1 decision on Sept. 3.
However, other than the potential land dispute raised by the Ransons, the only potential problem raised about the solar farm itself was the entrance that will be used for construction traffic.
There are proposed entrances off of Brauer and Three Bridge roads but Cypress Creek recommended having construction traffic enter and exit from the Brauer Road exit because it has much lower traffic counts, Sloan said. The company assumed that would be the board’s preference but was actually willing to have the traffic come in and out of either entrance.
During the public hearing, three residents of Brauer Road spoke about the project, saying they were in favor of the solar farm but were against having the construction traffic on their road.
Richard Wray said he was concerned because there is no deceleration lane turning from Route 60 west onto Brauer Road, which would back up traffic on Route 60 as they slow down to make the sharp turn. The side road on its best spots is 18 feet wide and is tar and gravel, not paved.
He raised concerns about damage the heavy construction vehicles could cause to the road; the dangers of large vehicles trying to share the road with other vehicles and school buses, and the risk of the road being cut off from emergency services if one of the trucks breaks down.
While Cypress Creek has agreed to a $200,000 road maintenance bond if any damage is done to the road during construction, that doesn’t help residents using the road every day in the meantime, he said.
Edwin Utt and George Utt also spoke, raising the same concerns about construction traffic sharing the space on the narrow road with others. They both also said they were concerned about their road but were not against the solar farm.
The board voted to keep the public hearing open until the October meeting to allow comment on it when the case comes back before the supervisors.
While the board did not vote on the project, they did agree after a long discussion that Three Bridge Road was better equipped to handle heavy construction traffic. They agreed that one of the 20 detailed conditions listed in the CUP application would be amended to make the Three Bridge Road entrance the one used for construction traffic.
After construction, only one vehicle trip a month is projected for the operation of the solar farm, Sloan said.
Bill Melton, District 4, asked that after the construction, the driveway entrance on Three Bridge Road would be paved near the road to avoid dragging gravel out onto it. He also asked how construction truck traffic would be handled during school bus hours.
Sloan said that once the construction is imminent, a construction manager will work with the county, VDOT, and the school division to create a traffic management plan.
Williams also asked questions regarding how the buffers around the streams on the property will be maintained.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.