CANTON — Members of the St. Lawrence County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board say they’re concerned that farmland that’s used for solar facilities might not revert back to farmland after the solar facility is decommissioned.

St. Lawrence County Planning Officer Director Jason Pfotenhauer said it was tough to determine if a property that has been used for a solar facility could revert back to agricultural use again.

“Yes, it could be again in the future. But who knows how long that will take,” he said during Thursday’s meeting of the St. Lawrence County Agricultural and Farmland Protection Board.

For instance, he said, “How many parking lots that are now parking lots that were originally cornfields will ever go back to being a cornfield? Very few. So I’m not really sure if we’re going to see any reverting back to agricultural land for these solar developments,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

“I think once a solar facility gets sited on a property, solar developers have told us in the past at county planning board meetings, these are temporary structures that will eventually go away. I don’t believe that argument. I think you’re right. They’re permanent fixtures. But, in the event a facility is discontinued, the site should be decommissioned and restored to its original state, and I think (state) Ag and Markets weighs in to help oversee how a site could be decommissioned and restored,” Planner II Matilda Larson from the St. Lawrence County Planning Office said.

She said those were called mitigation measures. But, she said, if a petition was received to remove lands from the agricultural district, “I think Ag and Markets role is diminished, and so the decommissioning requirements are diminished, the restoration requirements are diminished, and we may end having a site that is discontinued and never decommissioned.”

Board member David Fisher said it could come down to private property rights and what a landowner wants to do with the land.

“So, it’s not an easy question to answer, but I’m pretty sure none of these are ever going to be farmland again,” he said.

He said after watching the installation process for three projects and “the carelessness that they operate in... you could never afford to reclaim those sites. Just my observation. That’s not temporary. It’s gone. You’re seeing so many of these things going up.”

“We’re just going to be seeing solar panels everywhere, and it’s taking away that farmland, right? But, isn’t it our job as this board to protect the farmland? So, if we don’t have any way to stop this kind of a project that’s going on, what’s the purpose of this board?” board member Margaret Finen wondered.

“This is a tough one for sure because you’re right,” Mr. Pfotenhauer said.

He said, with many of the larger projects, “the state has come and had taken the authority away from the local municipalities. Maybe the local municipality would be all very gung-ho for something like this, but they don’t have that choice.”

Ms. Finen said she didn’t want to be surrounded by solar panels.

“It just seems like it’s going to be all you’re going to see. The land is never going to be the same again. There’s beautiful fields out there and you’ve got agricultural land that’s out there. It’s going to be gone,” she said.

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