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July 30, 2013
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Summit Cove residents hoping to halt solar garden construction

A project stands in limbo as residents of Summit Cove hope to thwart further construction of solar arrays near the Soda Creek Open Space and Wetlands.

A community meeting about the project is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at Summit Cove Elementary, 727 Cove Blvd. in Dillon.

The project, first approved unanimously in November 2012 by the Summit School District Board of Education, calls for the construction of two solar gardens behind Summit Cove Elementary, in addition to the placement of solar panels on the school’s roof. Similar, but smaller, solar panel projects also were approved for Summit Middle School and the Summit High School field house.

Although Summit Cove residents stated in a July 28 petition they support the expansion of green energy in Summit County, many residents raised issues with the project. At the top of their list of complaints is a lack of communication by the school district with local homeowners.

Summit Cove resident Marty Gotantas said Tuesday the community is “up in arms” about the solar arrays near the Soda Creek wetlands and that 99 percent of homeowners did not know about the plans until construction began last week.

They’re “industrializing this beautiful green belt we have in Summit Cove and nobody knew about it,” Gotantas said. “Something of this magnitude should have been introduced to property owners because we have to look at it. How they think they could push this through without anyone knowing about it is beyond me.”

However, Heidi Pace, Summit School District superintendent, said the district made numerous efforts to notify Summit Cove residents about the impending project and cited several articles and letters to the editor in the Sept. 15, 22, and 30; Oct. 7 and 24; and Nov. 15, 2012 editions of the Summit Daily News. Another article about the project appeared on March 14.

In addition, Pace said the project was discussed during four school board meetings beginning on Sept. 11, 2012. The school district provided adequate public knowledge of those meetings according to Colorado’s Sunshine laws, added Mark Rydberg, director of business services for the Summit School District.

Further public notice was provided during three community meetings, the first held Sept. 27, 2012, at Summit Cove Elementary, Pace said. Two more meetings were held Oct. 4 and Oct. 11, 2012, at Summit High School and Summit Middle School, respectively.

Information also was sent through the Sept. 14 and 26 and Oct. 10, 2012, school district newsletters, which are sent to all parents in the district, Pace said. The school district also arranged presentations at Summit Cove Elementary and before the Building Accountability Advisory Committee and Parent Teacher Student Association.

Text messages about the project also were issued through SC (Summit County) Alert, a county-wide public safety alert system, but only residents signed up for the service would have received messages, said Rydberg.

Despite what appears to be adequate public notice on behalf of the school district, nine-year Summit Cove resident Jeffrey Miller said the school district failed to consider an important demographic when it sought to garner support for the solar arrays.

Development of Summit Cove dates back to the late 1970s, Miller said, and many of its residents are older than in other subdivisions in the county.

“Granted they may have provided notice in the paper and across the school district, but there are numerous homeowners who don’t have children or whose children are grown up,” Miller said. “I would have preferred to receive a letter in the mail or at least seen signs alerting us this was coming.”

The school district did not issue letters to individual Summit Cove households, Rydberg said.

In addition to a lack of notice, the list of complaints cited in the petition continues to include the size of the project, which is estimated at 297 feet long by 188 feet wide by up to 12 feet high, or the equivalent of 25 highway billboards, the petition contends.

Also of concern are legal issues, including the construction of a wildlife fence around the solar gardens, which is prohibited by a conservation easement, according to the petition.

“The magnitude and scope of the project is huge,” Gotantas said. “They’re putting a lot of solar panels on, supposedly, school property, but no one has seen plans to make sure they’re not encroaching on the wetlands.”

Miller said local residents alerted the Environmental Protection Agency’s Denver office about the situation and that a wetlands specialist would travel to Summit Cove Thursday to inspect the construction site. A call to the EPA to confirm those plans was not returned by press time.

Gotantas spoke of rumors that an out-of-state company would profit financially from the construction and maintenance of the solar arrays. But Rydberg said that contention also is inaccurate. Among the companies collaborating on the project are Syndicated Solar, Innovative Energy and Spear Point Energy LLC, which are headquartered, respectively, in Denver, Breckenridge and Aspen, Rydberg said.

Interestingly, the final issue raised in the petition concerns a lack of temporary fencing at the construction site to prohibit people, particularly children, from harming themselves on construction materials, including heavy machinery.

But temporary fencing was never included in the project’s plans, according to construction drawings. Calls to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Denver office about whether a lack of construction fencing would be considered a safety violation also were not returned by press time.

The school district is “industrializing this beautiful green belt we have in Summit Cove and nobody knew about it. Something of this magnitude should have been introduced to property owners because we have to look at it. How they think they could push this through without anyone knowing about it is beyond me.”
— Marty Gotantas
Summit Cove resident on the construction of two solar arrays near the Soda Creek Open Space and Wetlands located behind Summit Cove Elementary.


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The Summit Daily Updated Jul 30, 2013 10:07PM Published Aug 5, 2013 01:42PM Copyright 2013 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.