Jackson gives OK to Six Flags solar farm
Mike Davis, @byMikeDavis
JACKSON – From the top of the Nitro roller coaster 400 feet in the air, Six Flags Great Adventure visitors may soon glimpse a sea of solar panels tucked into a pocket of preserved forest.
After nearly a year of protests and outcry from residents and environmentalists, the planning board on Tuesday night gave Six Flags and KDC Solar LLC its blessing to clear-cut nearly 15,000 trees on an undeveloped piece of park property, where a 21-megawatt solar farm is to be built.
A total of 18,965 trees are slated for removal. Environmental activists denounced Six Flags Great Adventure's plan to build a 90-acre solar farm at this site in Jackson Township.
To a crowd of nearly 50 people, many wearing white stickers reading "don't kill the Earth to save it," it was a disappointment.
“This gives green energy a black eye. You cannot cut down a forest for solar panels. That’s the opposite of being green,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, one of the groups formally objecting to the project. “You don’t destroy a habitat in a forest in the name of clean energy. You have to do both.
“You have to have the right project and the right site. This was the right project but the wrong site,” Tittel said shortly after the vote.
The facility will consist mostly of ground-mounted solar units, topped off with a few canopies in an employee parking lot.
The six environmental groups formally opposing the project had long argued for the installation of solar canopies over the 100-acre parking lot, as it would provide comparable solar energy without removing trees. Six Flags has dismissed that concept, as it would require the removal of cherished parking spaces.
“The opposition would have you believe that they care more for the Earth than the applicant,” Six Flags attorney Raymond Shea said. “Even when the applicant scaled back its proposal with a solar array and even when the applicant agreed to cover its employee parking lot with canopy-mounted panels, it was not enough.
"It is never enough with these organizations because it seems to me it's either their way or the highway," Shea said.
Last year, those organizations – Clean Water Action, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Save Barnegat Bay, Environment New Jersey, the Sierra Club of New Jersey and Crosswicks-Doctors Creek Watershed Association — filed suit against the town, Six Flags Great Adventure and KDC Solar, arguing that a township ordinance allowing solar facilities in conservation zones was directly in violation of the township's master plan.
That suit was held up until the planning board decision, but Clean Water Action campaign director David Pringle was sure of a legal victory, which means "we'll have to go through this all over again.
"The planning board was in the pocket of the developer from day one. They had more than enough discretion to vote no and we think they violated their own ordinances. We'll be here again unless they wise up because the courts are going to tell them they did it wrong."
Throughout the planning board process, opposing attorney Michele Donato argued against nearly every aspect of the project, from the negatives of ground-mounted solar units to the inefficiencies that new grasses would have in stopping the flow of storm water.
“Do you want to live with that the decision the next time K. Hovnanian or some other developer comes forth and says, ‘You let Great Adventure destroy 70 acres. Why can’t we just knock them down? Look what you did with them,’" Donato said. “This application is fundamentally not O.K. and not in any sound planning whatsoever.”
Neighboring residents, many who live along Reed Road, told the board they feared a physical damage and a dip in their property values due to flooding, as the trees are the only thing mitigating runoff during storms.
One of those residents, Marina Shapiro, has since hired the law firm of Gasiorowski & Holobinko to represent her and the Jackson Citizens Coalition, a grassroots group of residents against the project. Funding for the attorneys at least partly came from a GoFundMe donation drive, which had raised $1,115 as of Wednesday afternoon.
Shapiro's attorneys were denied when attempting to produce two expert witnesses at a meeting on Monday.
"It shouldn’t have come down to us residents banding together to spend countless hours and thousands of dollars to become visible to this board and this town," Shapiro said in February. "Our concerns should be front and center above any corporate interests because you’re our neighbors."
Mike Davis: (732) 643-4223; firstname.lastname@example.org