Sierra Club, DEP join chorus opposing solar power plan

Staff Writer

The Sierra Club has joined the roster of environmental groups objecting to the construction of a solar energy facility on property owned by Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has also entered the discussion, indicating it may be willing to purchase the land on which theme park executives want to build the alternative energy facility. The purchase would save thousands of trees from being cut down so that a solar array may be built.

Within the past week, both entities said the project’s impact on an environmentally sensitive property on Reed Road would be counter-productive to contemporary green energy initiatives.

“We support solar and want to see large-scale solar projects go forward, but we are concerned the Six Flags project will harm the environment and the solar market,” New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said.

Earlier this month, the Crosswicks Creek Doctors Creek Watershed Association, Clean Water Action, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and Save Barnegat Bay filed a complaint in state Superior Court, Toms River, that seeks to invalidate the approvals that have been granted for the project.

In an effort to prevent the deforestation of the property, the DEP sent a letter to Six Flags Entertainment Corp. in which it offered to purchase and preserve the property in question under the state’s Green Acres program.

“The state steadfastly supports renewable energy. However, the [DEP] supports only projects that are consistent with our mission to protect and preserve New Jersey’s air, land, water and natural and historic resources,” DEP Assistant Commissioner Richard Boornazian wrote in the letter to Six Flags Entertainment Corp. President Jim Reid-Anderson.

The construction of the solar array is expected to require thousands of trees to be cut down at the location where Six Flags wants to build the project. The electricity generated by the solar array would be used by the theme park, according to park executives.

Barrel owls and the northern pine snake, which are protected native species, live on the property. The tract includes environmentally sensitive areas, the headwaters for two environmentally significant streams, and steep slopes, the alteration of which could have a negative impact on the surrounding area.

“These streams are tributaries of the Toms River. Additionally, the site is an important wildlife corridor between the Toms River and Crosswicks Creek watersheds,” Tittel said.

Boornazian noted that the property is adjacent to the DEP’s Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. He suggested that Six Flags owns other land that could house the solar array.

“We have consistently held that any solar project should be sited on existing buildings, parking lots, remediated brownfields, properly closed landfills or other previously developed land in order to limit environmental impacts,” Boornazian wrote. “We oppose large solar projects that damage or destroy previously undisturbed natural resources.”

Boornazian did not make a monetary offer on behalf of the DEP for the property.

Attorney Michele Donato represents the environmental groups that filed the legal action and said her clients would support an attempt by the DEP to purchase the property.

“The DEP understands the impact of forest fragmentation and that the contiguity of this tract to the Colliers Mills site is a very significant environmental holding,” Donato said. “We just hope Six Flags will reasonably accept the offer.”

Six Flags spokeswoman Kristin Siebeneicher declined to comment on the DEP’s approach to park executives, but she said details regarding the solar project are still a work in progress.

“There are multiple parties involved in working through the details of this project, which will take time; however, Six Flags has been and will remain a good custodian of the environment,” Siebeneicher said.

Tittel, of the Sierra Club, asserted that the Six Flags project would have a catastrophic impact on the solar energy market.

“The problems with the Six Flags solar project are more than environmental. It not only violates nature, but also many [New Jersey Board of Public Utilities] regulations and orders,” Tittel said.

“One of the biggest problems with this project is that it will not only destroy a forest, but it could crash the solar market. The BPU has gone to great lengths to let the project go around the agency’s regulations.

“The BPU is playing a game of Twister with their own rules to allow the project to go forward,” he said.

Tittel said the Sierra Club intends to file a lawsuit to stop the conditional use variance that was granted by the Jackson Planning Board to Six Flags.

“We believe in generating electricity from solar because it is important to support clean energy, but it should not be done at the expense of the environment,” Tittel said. “We are glad Six Flags wants to do solar, but they should not use green energy at the expense of a green environment.”