By Andrew Martins
JACKSON – Objectors to a solar energy project that the operator of the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park has proposed constructing in Jackson continued to present their case at a recent meeting of the Jackson Planning Board.
Great Adventure’s application proposes the construction of a 22-megawatt solar power facility on a 66-acre portion of a 130-acre tract on Reed Road, Jackson.
Representatives of Six Flags have said KDC Solar will own, maintain and operate the equipment. The electricity generated by the solar panels would be used to power Great Adventure.
The Reed Road property is owned by Six Flags and is adjacent to the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. If the application is approved, the solar array will be constructed on 66 acres and thousands of trees will be removed from the site, according to previous testimony.
The application also proposes the construction of a solar panel array on a 4.5-acre parking lot that is used by employees of Great Adventure.
Attorney Michelle Donato represents the objectors — Clean Water Action, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Save Barnegat Bay, Environment New Jersey, the Crosswicks-Doctors Creek Watershed Association and the Sierra Club.
During the Jan. 11 hearing, board Chairman Robert Hudak told Donato her allotted time for presenting witnesses was “getting out of hand” and he imposed a 20-minute time limit following 90 minutes of testimony.
“We have given you every leeway and every opportunity to state your case,” Hudak told Donato. “You have had more than adequate time to present the case. You chose to focus on other areas.”
Donato said the testimony was important since the “devil is in the details” of the application.
“This is a very large application. We have presented it as efficiently and as thoroughly as possible,” she said. “I don’t even think I can work under that pressure.”
Despite the push from members of the board to truncate the remaining testimony in order to reach the public comment portion of the application and a decision, testimony on a number of environmental topics spanned more than four hours during the Jan. 11 meeting.
Objectors have expressed concern that the solar energy project will negatively impact several protected and endangered species which may be in that region.
Donato called Dr. Emile DeVito of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation to testify. DeVito, with more than 30 years of experience in environmental efforts in the region, said there are at least 13 species which would be irreversibly affected by the solar energy project, among them barred owls, box turtles and northern pine snakes.
For a number of those species, DeVito said, there would be little chance for them to flee the area, as their natural response to fear is to stay where they are or to hide underground, only to be crushed by construction equipment.
Although attorneys representing Great Adventure and the board’s professionals said the application was compliant with the existing environmental impact statement, DeVito said the application was inaccurate because it glossed over a majority of those 13 species.
“Any loss of habitat is a significant species decline,” DeVito said. “Even if (a turtle) could outrun a bulldozer, where is it going to go?”
The proposed clear cutting of 66 acres of trees has caused concern for residents living near the area. They have expressed concern that a lack of vegetation and naturally porous ground to soak up rain water will cause a significant flooding problem.
Geoffrey Goll, vice president and founding partner of Princeton Hydro, was called by Donato to testify about the potential storm water management issues.
According to Goll, the flattening of the subject property would lead to a more densely packed area, which in turn would make it difficult for rain to seep into the ground.
“This will significantly alter the [soil] … and make it difficult for vegetation to establish,” he said. “With a stiff soil, [water] will not infiltrate [the ground] as much.”
Goll said the use of turf for grass in the area could result in harmful chemicals reaching Barnegat Bay because the property includes the headwaters of two environmentally significant streams that eventually flow into the bay.
He testified that the project does not comply with storm water guidelines for two-year storm models, which could lead to flooding of planned basins and nearby residential areas.
Board professionals and attorneys representing Great Adventure agreed with Goll’s assessment on that aspect of the plan.
Although the applicant is requesting a waiver on the two-year storm requirement, Great Adventure’s representatives said they were willing to drop the request for the waiver and comply with the storm water regulations.
The Great Adventure solar energy project hearing will continue at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 1 at the municipal building.