BRUNSWICK — Brunswick may tighten the rules for developers wanting to build on certain wildlife habitats, after the planning board’s approval of Bowdoin College’s new 20-acre solar array at Brunswick Landing in December.

Councilor Steve Walker, who is also a project manager for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, introduced zoning amendments at Monday’s meeting. In December, Walker raised concerns about the plant and animal habitat that the solar development would be built on, stirring controversy among town officials, the college and environmentalists.

The proposed revisions outline a more specific process for determining environmental impacts and the required mitigation techniques that would follow.

The current ordinance states that new developers must “provide any mitigation measures necessary” to avoid “undue adverse impacts” on certain habitats and animal species.

“A recent project tested the application of this standard through the development of a full 15+/- acres of a critically imperiled natural community, one of the specifically listed Significant Plant and Animal Habitats,” Walker wrote in a letter to the council. “No meaningful mitigation measures were proposed that would prevent an undue adverse impact to the natural community, or the rare plants and rare animals it supports.”

“At the time of the project review, the justification given for allowing the project impact without adequate mitigation measures was that there was no clear process for determining an approach to mitigation, and thus notwithstanding the ordinance’s actual requirement, the staff could effectively waive it,” Walker wrote.

In December, The Times Record reported that Bowdoin College and the energy firm working on the project, Sol Systems, say their mitigation efforts were adequate for managing this habitat.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife identified three bird species of “special concern” living in or on the edge of the parcel of the former Navy base. The parcel also contains “critically imperiled” Little Bluestem-Blueberry Sandplain Grassland, which, along with the rest of the grassland, is typically managed through controlled burns.

While the developers intend to avoid that specific, “critically imperiled,” grassland, questions were raised about how the shade from the panels and the inability to perform controlled burns would affect the grass.

Sol officials plan to conduct a single controlled burn, occurring before construction begins and before the time when birds would nest, therefore preventing birds from nesting this year but allowing them to return in the future.

Sol System’s Director of Project Development Rennie Friedman, said they plan to install taller panels to avoid frequent mowing, although still mowing twice a year to manage growth, and that the grassland can “coexist with solar,” The Times Record reported.

While the start date for the project remains unknown due to new developments in CMP’s grid capacity, once completed, the new solar array would provide significant reductions to the college’s carbon footprint and bring Maine closer to the target of an 80 percent renewable grid by 2030.


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