Solar – what’s not to love – but wait – a private utility-scale solar facility with over 7,000 panels on the Brickyard Road school site? Those of us who attended the MCPS public information session on Nov. 17 came away shaking our heads in disbelief. Once again MCPS is proposing a use for the site that just does not make any sense and doing so in a way that has kept the public in the dark with no meaningful way to participate in the decision making process. Several of those attending presented detailed, scathing critiques of the supposed financial benefits of the project. Even the attendees who have solar installed on their own homes were opposed to an industrial scale facility at this site. One individual who did not even live in the area came to the meeting to warn of the visual impacts of such a facility after having seen one installed in the fields near the Sandy Spring Friends School in Sandy Spring.
We look forward to learning more about the proposed facility and its potential impacts. Mark Israel, a new WMCCA board member and local organic farmer, outlines several potential environmental consequences below. The following raise important issues as well:
MCPS issued the Request for Proposals (RFP) and selected a contractor without regard to whether the installation is allowable on the Brickyard site under current zoning and other land use restrictions.
The RFP did not include requirements for any kind of visual screening and the contractor selected stated they did not include any visual screening because it would have added costs and they wanted to submit a low bid.
There may be many other more suitable sites in Montgomery County such as existing impermeable surfaces and previously contaminated sites such as Brownfields or Superfund sites.
No public decision-making process has been established for the project, including no plans for public hearings or disclosure of underlying documents.
POTENTIAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF A LARGE SOLAR FACILITY ON THE BRICKYARD ROAD SCHOOL SITE
By Mark Israel
An array of solar panels covering almost all of the land surface of the Brickyard Road site of the former organic farm may have several negative impacts on the natural environment. A solar panel is an impermeable surface, and since the panels will be sloped toward the sun they will likely create much more concentrated runoff. The contractor states they will not do any grading, only digging a significant number of holes for the pylons to support the panels. This will create a large amount of loose soil also vulnerable to runoff.
It will be very difficult to control plant growth beneath the panels. Mowing under low panels is difficult and costly. There are six aggressive vining weeds in this area: woodbine, wild grape, "mile a minute," honeysuckle, bittersweet, and morning glory. These plants can all quickly climb up the panel supports and cover the panels, shading out the sun. If, as a result, herbicides are applied to control growth, the ground beneath the panels will become bare. The enhanced runoff from the panels will then cause significant movement of soil along with its herbicide load. The stream to the north side of the site will receive this load of sediment and herbicides and then drain into the Potomac, as do all streams in this part of the county. The Potomac then carries this sediment and the herbicides into the Chesapeake Bay.
GLEN HILLS – COUNTY EXECUTIVE’S SEWER PROPOSAL
By Susanne Lee
After meeting in work sessions on Oct. 26 and Nov. 16 to consider County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposal for limited expansion of sewer into the Glen Hills area, the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation and Environment Committee likely will not meet again until mid-January. Additional time is necessary for the council and Department of Environmental Protection staff to work on policy issues raised by the committee members. Several of the policy issues have county-wide implications. One involves a proposal to designate all septic systems installed before 1975, when new standards were instituted, as per se public health problems allowing and requiring hook ups to sewer rather than replacement with septic.
BRANDYWINE SENIOR LIVING AT POTOMAC
By Susanne Lee
Additional public hearings are scheduled for Dec. 3 and, if necessary, on Dec. 7 before Montgomery County Hearing Examiner Martin Grossman on this application for approval of a conditional use to construct and operate an assisted living facility in an RE-2 (2 acre minimum) residential zone at 10800 Potomac Tennis Lane in Potomac. This is the current site of the Potomac Tennis and Fitness Club. WMCCA is opposing the application in part because approval of such a facility at this location would violate the Potomac Subregion Master Plan which restricts the location of new senior housing in the subregion to other specific locations.
BUILDING PROPOSAL FOR JUSTEMENT WOODS PROPERTY
By Nancy Madden
A Preliminary Plan pre-submission meeting concerning the proposed development of the Justement Woods property at 11731 Glen Mill Road was held at the Potomac Library on Nov. 25. Dean Packard from PG Associates, Inc. provided copies of the proposed plan to build two 4,500 sq.ft. “modest” colonials, each with a 3-car garage. He stated the 2.5 acre property is on city water and has passed percolation tests for two separate septic systems. The plan shows the driveway will remain as is, with one new house to be built in the location of the current house and the second house to be built in the front of the property along Glen Mill Road. He also said a public hearing regarding this proposal will be conducted by the Montgomery County Planning Board, and notices for the location, date, and time will be sent to all affected neighbors and citizen associations.
Ted Duncan, president of the Brickyard Coalition, Inc., will speak at the next West Montgomery County Citizens Association meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 7:15 p.m. at the Potomac Community Center.
The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) have proposed construction of utility-scale solar power facilities on three currently undeveloped future school sites. One is the Brickyard Road school site previously proposed for MSI’s private soccerplex and more recently for use as a school bus depot. The Brickyard Coalition is a civic organization that, along with WMCCA, successfully challenged the soccerplex proposal and continues to monitor possible uses of the site. Duncan will provide information on the proposed solar facility and the coalition’s current position regarding its installation. The deadline for submitting comments to MCPS is Jan. 1, 2016. As always, the public is welcome to attend WMCCA’s meetings. If schools are closed because of inclement weather, the meeting will be cancelled.