Commissioners receive report on solar farms

Apr. 3—JEFFERSON — The Ashtabula County Board of Commissioners, representatives of the Ashtabula County Prosecutor's Office and residents of Windsor Township reviewed information from the prosecutor's office regarding the county's ability to regulate small solar projects at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

Representatives of the prosecutor's office spoke to the commissioners regarding an opinion from the office about whether or not the commissioners can regulate small solar projects in the county.

The plan would have to be approved by voters in the impacted areas of the county, according to the opinion.

The opinion states, while the commissioners have the statutory right to regulate small solar facilities, it must follow a multi-step process to do so. The commissioners could then enforce the code by injunction, fine or zoning certificates.

The commissioners cannot file an injunction to stop a project in the works unless there is a zoning regulation that has been violated.

The issue arose after Windsor residents reached out to the commissioners with concerns about a planned new solar farm in the township. A number of township residents attended a meeting in mid-March, and asked the commissioners if they could implement county zoning to prohibit the construction of solar farms smaller than 50 megawatts.

Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said the commissioners have never implemented county-wide zoning, so adopting county-wide zoning in this instance would be unprecedented.

He said local communities should be the one to spur zoning changes, based on the opinion, and they could do so in a more expedited fashion.

The opinion states townships could go through a similar process.

Mario Lerz, who lives near the proposed solar facility, said the township is 63 percent Amish, and it would take time to get them registered to vote.

Sharon Lerz, another local resident, said the trustees have been unwilling to start zoning in the township.

A representative of the prosecutor's office said most zoning codes have a provision that exempts projects that are under construction.

Sharon Lerz asked when the exemption would go into effect, and Chief Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Hebebrand said it is specific to the facts of the case. Lerz said the township trustees have not been receptive to their arguments in favor of zoning.

Township resident Trista Webber said there are some people who do not even know the facilities are being installed.

In other business:

—The commissioners awarded a contract to North Coast Design Build for alterations to the Ashtabula County Department of Job and Family Services.

The cost of the project is not to exceed $2.86 million, and it is expected to be completed within 10 months.

The estimated cost for the project was $3.5 million.

—A number of county offices will remain open on April 8, the date of the solar eclipse.

Kozlowski said county coroner's office, commissioners office, county courts, sheriff's office, the Clerk of Courts' legal office will be open on a skeleton crew, and the auditor's office will all be open on April 8.

The Clerk of Courts title office will be closed, county recorder and county treasurer's office will be closed for the eclipse, he said.