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Deficiencies found in Hesperus solar application

Primergy Solar confident its application will be accepted
Finding a legal water supply for the 1,900-acre solar installation is likely to be a major problem for Primergy Solar. The submitted plans to haul water are unlikely to be found in compliance with the county land use code. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The La Plata County Planning Department notified Primergy Solar earlier this month that the company’s proposal for a 1,900-acre solar project in Hesperus was incomplete. The determination of completeness was the first step in the 1041 permit process, which applies to large projects with wide-ranging impacts.

A cover letter from Natural Resources Planner II Christy Kost addressed to project director Kathryn Meyer informed the company that an expert consultant had been hired to conduct a portion of the review, but that the part conducted by the planning department had turned up deficiencies. Under the county land-use code, Primergy will pay for the consultant.

Because the full determination has not been completed pending the results of the consultant’s work, the clock has not yet started ticking on the 60-day period in which Primergy can cure the deficiencies.

The determination lists numerous ways in which planners found the application incomplete. With respect to 15 specific provisions of the La Plata County land-use code, Primergy failed to provide “information to meet the minimum requirements for a completed application.”

A map depicting the approximate location of the Hesperus Primergy Solar project. (Reuben Schafir/Durango Herald file)

In other cases, the planning department was more specific in requesting further clarification or highlighting specific items that the company had left out.

Because this is the first project the county has handled through the 1041 process, there are no other projects to which it can be compared. However, Kost said the code is complex and the process is fluid for that reason.

“It’s difficult to get right the first time and that’s not uncommon with a lot of applicants,” Kost said in an interview with The Durango Herald.

Both Kost and Meyer emphasized the sheer size of the application, which exceed 1,000 pages in length.

Some of the cited deficiencies call for further clarification or detail with respect to certain plans, such as where Primergy will recycle the project’s materials upon its expiration or how the company arrived at certain conclusions regarding the visual impact of the installation.

Other deficiencies stem from minor inconsistencies in the application. For example, the geologic hazards assessment submitted in appendix six of the application repeatedly references a 1,600-acre project, not the 1,900-acre project references throughout the rest of the application. In another case, the document highlights that the provided copy of the lease with Fort Lewis College says the company is not permitted to store or spill any toxic or hazardous material on the premises, “yet there will be storage tanks on site for gasoline, diesel, mineral oil, and propane.”

Still, some deficiencies are more significant, including at least one that could pose a larger problem for the company moving forward.

Kost said the failure to complete items on the engineering checklist was unusual, even for a project of this size. Completing that list of items, which includes an estimate of ongoing water demand, a traffic analysis and detailed road construction plans, is generally the biggest hurdle for any project of this scale.

“The engineering checklists in its entirety is a pretty big deal to have,” Kost said. “... I’m not sure why it wasn’t included in their application, but it isn’t very common, for something of this complexity, for an applicant to not include those things.”

As one might expect of a project sited in the drought-ridden Colorado River Basin, and near the Dryside of La Plata County, water sourcing may present the largest challenge to the company.

Although Primergy included a commitment to serve the project with the 340-acre-feet of water necessary in the next one to two years from the Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District, the company did not submit a water demand study addressing the needs of the project beyond construction, including for the operation of a septic system.

More importantly, the commitment to serve water to the project appears to be out of accordance with the county land-use code. Primergy plans to haul the 340-acre-feet of water to the site, however the code enumerates only a handful of uses for which water may be hauled; an industrial development is not one of those uses.

Meyer, the project’s director, declined to answer specific questions regarding the deficiencies, how they occurred or what financial impact they might have. She responded instead with a written statement.

“This is a normal part of the permitting process to ensure the permit meets local requirements, which are different in every jurisdiction,” Meyer’s statement reads in its entirety. “Primergy is confident that its application will be accepted as complete and compliant with LaPlata county (sic) code after we have had an opportunity to address the handful of matters the county has flagged, as is its duty to its citizens. Since applications can run to more than 1,000 pages as our (sic) did, this ordinary step in the process is essential to give the government, the public and the applicant assurance that the permit is compliant with the letter and spirit of the law.”

Once the consultant returns its findings, an extendible 60-day clock will begin ticking, within which time Primergy must remedy the deficiencies.

rschafir@durangoherald.com

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