Jackson Township has amended an ordinance it adopted in January to now allow solar energy arrays in the parking lot of Six Flags Great Adventure. However, it will still allow Six Flags to continue the clear-cutting of up to 90 acres of a forested site to construct a solar energy farm. Despite the ordinance that allows solar panels to be installed 25 feet off the ground, which could be used in parking lots, it will still allow solar in the Conservation Zone.
Environmental groups, including the New Jersey Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit in May against the township, the Planning Board, Great Adventure and KDC Solar to stop this project. A pre-trial conference was scheduled for Sept. 30 in state Superior Court.
We are in court over the original approvals for Six Flags to clear-cut up to 90 acres of forest for a solar farm and now Jackson is trying to play games by changing the ordinance.
We oppose this ordinance because it does not solve the problem. The ordinance does not protect the Conservation Zone and allows a substantial amount of clear-cutting in an environmentally sensitive area. Even if they cut less than 90 acres, it will still have negative impacts. We support solar energy and want to see large scale solar projects go forward, but this project will harm the environment. Given the size of the Six Flags property, there are many alternatives to come up with an alternative site on buildings and disturbed land. Building a solar farm should be a positive for the environment and should not cause environmental damage in the process.
Clear-cutting 18,000 trees on environmentally sensitive lands will not only cause destruction, but it will take longer to achieve permits for wetlands, wetlands buffers, buffer hazards and storm water, and take threatened and endangered species habitat.
With Jackson’s adopted amended ordinance, it will allow solar arrays to be up to 25 feet tall. However, this does not mean Six Flags will only install solar on the many alternative sites they have like parking lots, ticket areas, storm water retention basins, staging areas, rooftops and other areas.
The ordinance could allow Six Flags to install solar up to 25 feet in the woods, too. This ordinance will only work if they amend it so Six Flags actually cannot put solar in the Conservation Zone. If this ordinance was sincere, then Jackson would change it to require solar arrays only in disturbed areas and remove the 90-acre parcel from allowing solar. They should also require Six Flags and KDC Solar to require more efficient panels so there is less space used.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program wants to buy the 90-acre property to prevent the clear-cutting. With that extra money, Six Flags can afford to install the solar on their parking lot.
The proposed location, east of the safari park, would require the clear-cutting of 18,000 trees on up to 90 acres. The property is mostly forested and sits next to the Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area, a 13,000-acre area in Jackson and Plumsted.
The area includes environmentally sensitive areas, headwaters for two Category 1 streams, and steep slopes. These streams are tributaries of the Toms River.
Additionally, the site is an important wildlife corridor between the Toms River and Crosswicks Creek watersheds. The site is home to habitat for barred owls and northern pine snake — protected species.
This site has so many environmental constraints and problems that not only would it cause environmental harm, it could take years for permits (to be issued) and the project could take even longer.
Given all of the constraints of the property, the project could be denied or even take years for approval. Six Flags wants to complete this within two years. However, if they choose a site that has already been cleared, they can complete the project a lot faster and a lot cheaper.
We are going to continue to fight this case since Six Flags can clearly install solar panels in other places. Cutting down 18,000 trees will undermine the entire purpose of installing a solar energy farm. Eliminating the forest will add more flooding and pollution, since the original trees had the ability to absorb carbon and clean our air.
It is very easy to put solar panels above parking lots, which will also help shade cars and prevent clear-cutting. Solar panels can go on empty lots and on top of buildings.
These alternative areas would have much less impact on the environment and Six Flags must consider them. Jackson’s new ordinance does not see the forest through the trees.
Jeff Tittel is the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.