Agreement reached on easements for future site of West Greenwich solar farm
The clearing in West Greenwich destined to become a solar farm is shown from a Southwest Airlines flight coming into Rhode Island TF Green International Airport on June 23, 2023. (Photo by Janine L. Weisman/Rhode Island Current)
PROVIDENCE — An agreement between state authorities, conservationists and a solar farm developer enabling the construction of a solar farm on a large swath of cleared land in West Greenwich was approved by the Rhode Island State Properties Committee Tuesday morning.
The agreement, approved unanimously by the committee, allows for a 25-foot wide tract from Hopkins Hill Road to the lot owned by Hidden Valley Realty, LLC. It will enable Hidden Valley Solar, LLC, to construct the farm on the property.
The tract will run from Hopkins Hill Road through property owned by the West Greenwich Land Trust and The Nature Conservancy. The 104-acre property owned by Hidden Valley includes a section of the Queen’s River, a 10.7 mile long waterway that runs through North Kingstown, Exeter, and West Greenwich and is Rhode Island’s only cold water fishing site.
“We wanted to make sure there’s a net positive gain,” said Mary Kay, assistant director and chief legal counsel for the Department of Environmental Management.
Per the agreement, the pathway will be unpaved and will not interfere with public access to hiking trails in the area. In addition, dirtbikes and all-terrain vehicles will be prohibited from using the trail. It also prohibits Hidden Valley from fencing off the trail.
Hidden Valley Realty also agreed to cover any costs associated with the access pathway and its maintenance.
Scott Comings, associate state director for The Nature Conservancy, said the group attempted to buy the property twice before, in 2012 and 2020, but the owners at the time refused.
“When it was purchased by the solar company, we had to make an agreement to understand what the right of way was going to be,” Comings said in an interview. “It was a global solution to clarify all our issues.”
Representatives from Hidden Valley, West Greenwich Land Trust, and the Town of West Greenwich did not respond to requests for comment.
The agreement also included a conservation easement prohibiting construction over a 7.6-acre disputed piece of land abutting Queen’s River over which The Nature Conservancy and Hidden Valley claim ownership.
“The land conveyed by the Conservation Easement has contested ownership,” a letter submitted by the DEM read. “(Hidden Valley Realty) has agreed to grant the conservation easement to DEM and (The Nature Conservancy) to ensure protection of this environmentally sensitive parcel.”
It also prevents the creation of ditches, dykes, draining, tree cutting, and the use of insecticides. There is an exception when necessary for the construction of foot trails.
The agreement, however, does not change zoning and Hidden Valley will be able to include it for the purpose of any future necessary calculation.
“I don’t think it serves the DEM or the Conservancy to be anti-development,” Kay said.
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Correction: This story has been updated and corrected. The name of Hidden Valley Realty was incorrectly listed as Happy Valley Realty when originally posted. Rhode Island Current regrets the error.
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