SEARSPORT — After a change in state law, the Navy Street solar project contract will need tweaking, according to Town Manager James Gillway.

“…(R)estrictions on the number of meters have changed,” he said at the June 15 selectmen’s meeting. Prior to the legislative change, he said, the town was capped at nine meters. “That cap is gone now, so we are capturing all of our meters,” he said, “(including) the pump plants and the new community building — everything is now captured.” Gillway said Central Maine Power Co. will credit the power generated by the solar array on Navy Street against the meters in the program.

The expected fair market value of the solar project after seven years will be slightly higher than originally anticipated, Gillway said, because the project has been enlarged. “After seven years,” he said, “we can buy this field and own it at $187,500.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection has found a freshwater spring on a portion of the property where the solar array is to be erected across from the water treatment plant. “There’s not a lot of ability to build on that,” Gillway said.

“The DEP requested a Tier 1 permit for the project, which allows for activities in, on, or over wetlands. … We went through that process,” he said, hiring a soil scientist who researched the project site and ultimately gave the project a green light. The town has been “battling (with DEP) for over two years to try and resolve the issue at the end of Navy Street,” Gillway said.

Sundog Solar is ready to begin work on the project now, the town manager said, but first the board must understand the contract. If approved, he expects to be generating electricity from the sun by the end of summer.

Ultimately the board decided to table the article until the next meeting so selectmen could read the purchase agreement.

Hiring a resource officer

In other business, Searsport police moved a step closer to hiring a resource officer for district schools who would also serve on the police force during the summer. The only catch, Gillway said, is that the town would have to buy out the applicant’s contract from the municipality he is coming from, at a cost of approximately $12,000.

Gillway said typically if a municipality sends a new officer to the police academy, the cost is absorbed by the town. If the officer desires to go to another department, the new municipality pays out the amount to cover the academy costs. Searsport, he said, is usually on the receiving end of contract buyouts.

“We tabled the hiring because during the pandemic kids were going to school through remote learning,” he said. “That is all going to change in the next school year. The board did not budget for that position in the first quarter of 2021. Now we are closing in on the time we need to take some action.”

Police Chief Todd Boisvert said he would request half of the commitment to be paid by Regional School Unit 20 at the July school board meeting. “I’m very comfortable asking them if I already have your support — your half,” he told the board. “It doesn’t make sense, if you’re not going to support your half, to ask them to do that.”

Gillway said, “The teachers want it, the staff want it, and the parents want it. I don’t think there will be any problem…” with the district agreeing to pay half.

Ultimately selectmen approved the new police hire, and the funds to buy out the contract.

Special town meeting on wastewater, broadband

A special town meeting is tentatively planned for Thursday, July 22, at 6 p.m. at Union Hall to vote on whether the town should accept a federal Department of Agriculture loan/grant to rebuild the wastewater treatment plant. The grant is worth $4.8 million, while the loan amount is $1.6 million with a 1.75% interest rate.

Broadband will also be on the agenda at the special town meeting. The article will ask voters to approve just over $2 million for a municipal broadband internet network. “We want to get ahead for the next round of grants for broadband,” Gillway said.

Also on the meeting agenda is an article asking voters to authorize selectmen to approve a local option on premise liquor licenses and approve moving $30,000 from surplus funds to a contingency account. “This gives us a little bit of a buffer with initiatives we’ve started this year,” Gillway said, adding that the contingency fund already has $20,000 in it.

Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. alerted the town in a letter that the facility is being upgraded, but the plant is at maximum capacity for accepting trash.

Gillway said PERC shut down operations while upgrading systems, but still accepted trash. “But now that they are full,” he said, “the trash will have to go to a landfill like the rest of the communities who didn’t sign with them.”