The Falmouth Select Board unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Economic Development and Industrial Corporation for phase two of the landfill solar development project at its meeting on Monday, June 15.
Prior to the vote, board chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said the EDIC requested additional time to allow its counsel to further discuss its potential small-business loan program with Falmouth town counsel. Though the loan program is a separate matter from the solar project, if the EDIC is allowed to pay a nominal rent of $10 per year for phase two of the solar project, the corporation can retain more of the ground lease revenue from Citizens Energy to fund the loan program.
While board member Douglas C. Brown said he was willing to wait for more information, board member Douglas H. Jones said the town could proceed with the intergovernmental agreement now.
“I’m a little bit taken aback, because the EDIC pushed this really quick and said we needed to handle this right away, and forced us to handle this way faster than we wanted to,” Mr. Jones said. “They then published something in the paper, without communicating with our town counsel, and put us in this position. Now, I think we have a pretty good proposal to go forward with, which splits the revenue correctly, 50 percent each way.”
Select board member Samuel H. Patterson said the urgency came from a desire to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the push was really trying to help out the citizens of this town, our small businesses, and to be in a position to give them a little bit of a cushion during this transition period here,” Mr. Patterson said. “They’ve been hurting for the last few months. I’ve heard from a number of them, and they’re desperate.”
While the EDIC did not anticipate all the hurdles to creating a small-business loan program, he gave it credit for attempting to establish the program.
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the intergovernmental agreement is time sensitive for another reason.
“I just wanted to advise the board that we have consistently been urged, both by Citizens Energy and the EDIC, that this absolutely had to be adopted by the select board in the month of June, and could not go beyond June for reasons apparently related to Citizens Energy’s timetable,” Mr. Suso said. “We were told of some potential changes to federal legislation and tax credits that made it urgent to go forward.”
Noting the select board’s next meeting is Monday, July 13, Mr. Suso said town counsel worked overtime to complete an intergovernmental agreement to meet the June timetable.
“I also want to acknowledge that outside counsel that was secured could have, at any time, spoken with town counsel,” Mr. Suso said. “I don’t know if that even occurred. They issued a stand-alone opinion and a suggestion, after publicizing that opinion, making frankly some comments in the local paper, characterizing Town Counsel Duffy’s assessment of the legal situation. I would suggest that maybe outside counsel should maybe speak to Frank Duffy.”
Mr. Duffy said he was available to discuss the small business loan program with outside counsel, but even with outstanding questions regarding the loan program, he said, the solar project can proceed.
“Everything was going along very well until about a month ago when the EDIC came up with the idea of trying to coordinate the approval of the solar project with funding the recovery loan program and since then, it’s really kind of ground to a halt,” Mr. Duffy said.
Saying he recognized the dilemma, Mr. Duffy said the select board could approve the intergovernmental agreement in concept while acknowledging that the EDIC asked to renegotiate the rent to fund its small business recovery loan program.
“I thought I was trying to please everybody, if that’s possible, to allow the board of selectmen to take some action, to allow Citizens Energy to go ahead and get their financing and get this project underway, and also to offer some assurance to the EDIC that we’re not cutting them out,” he said. “They can come back when they have everything together.”
Even with an approved intergovernmental agreement, Ms. English Braga said, special legislation and a Town Meeting vote may be required for the EDIC to oversee a small business recovery loan program.
Under the agreement, the EDIC will lease approximately 18.8 acres of land at the former landfill from the town. The EDIC will then sublease the property for 25 years to Citizens Energy, which will build a solar array. The EDIC will pay the town 50 percent of the revenue from its sublease of the land as rent. Citizens Energy is expected to pay the EDIC $177,650 annually. The motion acknowledges that the EDIC may request an adjustment of the rent to help fund the recovery loan program once its details are known and the town’s authority to contribute financially is confirmed.