Green Development Threatens Two R.I. Municipalities and Local Officials with Lawsuits
February 2, 2020
A controversial wind and solar developer has harsh words and costly legal threats for two Rhode Island towns he accuses of stalling his renewable energy projects.
On Jan. 29, Mark DePasquale, founder of North Kingstown-based Green Development LLC, served legal notices to Coventry and Exeter, outlining his intent to sue for lost revenue and expenses.
In the court filings, DePasquale said both towns have shown “a well-conceived and pernicious pattern, practice, design, and policy” that hindered development of wind turbines and solar facilities on land owned or leased by Green Development.
DePasquale isn’t shy when directing Green Development attorneys to make legal threats and/or file lawsuits. It’s a tactic he’s been employing for about a decade.
DePasquale is seeking $200 million in damages from Exeter that stem from alleged unfair actions taken by the town. The council’s 60-day moratorium on ground-mounted solar development enacted in December 2018 froze the approval process for several of DePasquale’s projects.
He took the town to court, but a Superior Court judge ruled that the Town Council had clearly outlined the basis for the temporary moratorium. The judge also noted that the council had found that Exeter was in danger of overdevelopment, because its two-day-a-week planner was inundated with 12 proposals for utility-scale solar installations and was under deadlines set by state law that would have automatically approved the proposals if those deadlines weren’t met.
In Coventry, DePasquale has threatened to sue the town for $85 million, partly because the Planning Commission denied a proposal for a Green Development ground-mounted solar array in late 2017. The commission said it denied the project a special-use permit because it wasn’t consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan.
In proposing the utility-scale energy project for a residential area in western Coventry, DePasquale paired plans for the 5-plus-megawatt solar array with a therapy farm that would serve people with special needs. No business license was pulled and no permit was filed for the therapy farm.
However, unlike the therapy-farm component of the dual proposal for 394 Carr’s Trail and 5641 Flat River Road, a master plan for the solar array was filed. The footprint of the panels would cover 7.8 acres, or 20.9 percent of the usable area on the two lots, according to the project’s master plan.
Coventry’s ruling, however, didn’t stop DePasquale from prepping the site for his denied solar installation, forcing town officials to issue a cease-and-desist order on June 4, 2019 — the town issued a finalized order a week later — after discovering that DePasquale was building the unapproved solar project without permits and authority. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management also issued DePasquale a notice of violation for altering wetlands on the site.
In his most recent court filing against the town, DePasquale also claims revenue was hurt by new requirements in Coventry for noise and flicker limits imposed on his 10 wind turbines. The town of Coventry issued notices of violation against three Green Development turbines for violating shadow-flicker limits.
The intent-to-sue documents were delivered to planning officials and town council and planning board members in each town. The letters threaten that the legal costs for these individuals may “far exceed the likely amount of insurance possessed by the Town, thereby potentially exposing each of you to significant uninsured, and possible, personal liability.”
The Coventry legal notice also accuses assistant town planner Brian Wagner of bias and prejudice against DePasquale and Green Development. According to the 30-page document, the cease-and-desist order issued by Wagner is seen as “an attempt to harass and intimidate Mr. DePasquale.”
The seven-page Exeter legal notice accuses town officials of seeking “to deprive, deny and interfere” with Green Development’s interests in other communities.
The legal notices aren’t lawsuits but 40-day notices of intent to file lawsuits, so it’s unclear if they aim to provoke a response or action by either town to avert the lawsuits. Officials in both towns declined to discuss the legal action, citing ongoing discussions with legal counsel.
Bill Fischer, spokesperson for Green Energy, said “the notice of intent speaks for itself. We intend to file these suits.”
In a press statement released Jan. 30, Fisher noted that the potential lawsuits are intended to remind Rhode Island cities and towns that they shouldn’t follow the actions taken by Coventry and Exeter.
“Unfortunately, what has ruled the day in both of these towns is obstructionism motivated by nimbyism,” Fischer said.
ecoRI News staffer Frank Carini contributed to this report.
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Forget this guy! Yuck. Talk about gaslighting the sustainable development world. Disturbing wetlands is so incredibly offensive. Naming your company “green” doesn’t mean you’re doing anything good for the environment. This reeks of greed. There are better places and more respectful ways to install wind and solar.
Sounds like old fashion criminal extortion. Prosecute this guy!
Typical use of a SLAP suite that supposedly were outlawed in RI under Lincoln Almond who actually promised to prevent their use in RI and then did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING….about this issue…!!!
nimby, nimby, nimby, just like all other towns are in the process of doing, putting into place rules and regs to hinder such development. Give the guy back his tax dollars that he has probably already paid to these towns.
Siting solar, or anything else, on land appropriate for its use, and not on known areas of environmental sensitivity, is not NIMBY, Aldo, it’s RESPONSIBLE.
It is the will of the people, embodied in law, underwritten by the ballot box.
Be sure to thank Governor Raimondo for the havoc these guys are causing to RI’s green spaces. This week there is yet also another proposal to clear cut 127 acres in Hopkinton – also on wetlands (hello – DEM – anybody home?!). We’ve already lost 100’s of acres of forest to this kind of development. These guys, like DePasquale, come out of the woodwork to make a quick buck and expect towns to violate their own zoning laws (which, sadly, some do). There is no thoughtful environmental consideration given to the siting of these commercial solar installations. For example, in response to our concerns that clear cutting hundreds of trees for a solar installation would increase the amount of noise from the highway, the solar company "expert" assured us that removing the trees would actually have the opposite effect (this claim actually caused the audience to laugh loudly, so not all bad). Maybe all of the towns need to come together for class action suit against Gina Raimondo and the DEM for promoting this attack on our zoning and local comprehensive plans.
In a press statement released Jan. 30, Fisher noted that the potential lawsuits are intended to remind Rhode Island cities and towns that they shouldn’t follow the actions taken by Burrillville, Coventry and Exeter.
“Unfortunately, what has ruled the day in all of these towns is obstructionism motivated by nimbyism,” Fischer said.
Begin with quantifying that actual value of these lands and adjust taxes as such to include environmental sensitivity, by the will of these people and stipulate what these environmentally sensitive lands can and cannot be used for. I wonder what types of businesses these people will vote on for use thereof. Letting the will of the people write new rules and regulations after the fact to dictate what said lands, that they do not own, can and cannot be used for, appears to be illegal, not embodied in law, nor underwritten by the ballot boxes. Please excuse my babble, but, I think Bill gets my drift.
I accept the criticism, Aldo, I was not clear in that statement of mine. I did not mean that its responsible for any government body to retroactivity regulate—that is, after the fact of a development proposal made under the prior rules. If Coventry and Exeter in effect did that, the court will rule in favor of Greene Development. What I had intended to say was that regulatory reform of solar development in development in process right now in many towns is a perfectly legitimate response to a very real problem. At the date such new regulations are embodied by ordinance, those will be rules—underwritten by the will of the people.
As to the January 30th Green press release, Mr. Fischer did not include Burrillville as a target of Green’s ire. If there is any controversy over solar development in Burrillville, it hasn’t been reported yet.
What is with all the Hubba bub anyway, with the mad dash for Solar/Wind power wind anyway, I thought there was no need for power in the State of Rhode Island, i.e. the recent denial of the power plant within the Town of Burrillville where it was determined that there was no need for power anywhere in this state. Also, I think that the Town of Burrillville also just change (tightened) the towns comprehensive rules and reg’s to make it more difficult for permitting of any of the exact types of facilities that the efsb determined were not necessary in this state. I wonder what would have brought these changes about????? It was pretty obvious to me what the intent was at one of the meetings that I attended.