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Buffalo Sewer Authority seeks solar panels, proposal would rezone part of Unity Island

The Common Council has the final say
Posted at 6:32 PM, Oct 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-01 22:30:09-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Unity Island could get a new addition, solar panels.

The Buffalo Sewer Authority accepted an application from Montante Solar to install solar panels to help power the sewer authority.

Montante Solar is requesting a rezoning of 28 acres of the Unity Island for the area that sits between the Buffalo Sewer Authority's wastewater treatment facility and the international railroad bridge, according to forms the company submitted to the city. The area would be rezoned from green space to light industrial use.

"That's going to actually utilize a significant amount of energy that we traditionally use, that we're going to be able to offset with the solar project and the solar array," said BSA General Manager Oluwole McFoy.

In a statement to 7 Eyewitness News, Montante Solar states residents will have full access to the parkland.

“We believe the array will not have any impact on what is already designated public parkland/pathways and residents will continue to have access to Unity Island, including 100% of the parkland.

“It is our intention to reach out to any concerned citizens so they can learn more about the project, including the various environmental benefits.

“In addition to repurposing a closed municipal landfill site and reducing the Buffalo Sewer Authority’s CO2 emissions by 3,800 tons/year, the project will incorporate a robust pollinator element that will allow the City to demonstrate leadership with cutting-edge conservation strategies.”
Dan Montate, President of Montante Solar

McFoy said the panels would save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in a year, and millions over the 20 year contract

The former incinerator area is now covered in grass, with boulders lining the edges between the grass and waterfront bike paths. There is a discrepancy about who owns the land slated to be rezoned.

Oluwole said the land to be rezoned belongs to the Buffalo Sewer Authority.

"We're pretty firm in our belief and all of our background checks that this has been set aside for the wastewater facility, and in fact in 2005 we actually were able to put construction debris here to help with the capping of this land over here just to make sure just to make sure," he said. "It is designated for the wastewater facility."

In 2001, North District Council Member Joe Golombek designated the area as parkland. He said it was his understanding that the grass was part of the park.

“I have a feeling that in a worst case scenario there’s going to be a lawsuit, I would hope that we could come to some sort of a compromise to move the solar panels somewhere else," he said.

Golombek is a supporter of solar panels, but would prefer them to stay inside the sewer authority's fences.

"It's just not the right location in my opinion," he said. "I mean you're 40 feet from the Niagara river I mean this should be kept as park land in my opinion."

Frequent user of Unity Island and activist in the Black Rock and Riverside neighborhoods Mary Ann Kedron is also in favor of solar panels, but would like to see them placed elsewhere.

"It's time for us to think about the expansion of this park, and again the expansion of the use of this waterfront, rather than constricting it and using it for something that we think might be able to be put somewhere else," she said.

She called Unity Island a hidden jewel of the waterfront, and remembers what the area was like before it became a park.

"I'm very concerned that we're giving away a piece of our heritage again," she said. "We don't want to do that, we've worked for 20-30 years to try and keep that from happening, and we have green, and we have waterfront, and we're fighting very very hard to keep it."

Kedron said city officials she's been in contact with have been receptive to residents views. Montante Solar also said it intends to meet with concerned residents.

Oluwole said the sewer authority looked at several rooftop sites, but said roof age was an issue.

”This was one of the key places that didn't involve roofs, it involved a reuse of a capped landfill and it was an ideal location to be able to place a solar field to serve the likes of the Buffalo Sewer Authority and the energy that we use," he said.

Golombek said he wished there was more input from the Black Rock and Riverside neighborhoods early on. The rezoning is currently in committee, and the Common Council votes on the final decision.