Opponents have chance to question solar project

Staff Writer

More than four hours of testimony regarding a solar energy project proposed by Six Flags Great Adventure at a location off Reed Road, Jackson, dominated a special meeting of the Planning Board.

Attorney Michelle Donato, who represents several environmental organizations, held the floor for the majority of the Nov. 9 hearing as she cross-examined witnesses who had testified at a previous meeting.

Donato’s clients include Clean Water Action, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Sierra Club.

According to previous testimony, the solar energy project calls for the construction of a large array of solar panels on a 130-acre tract on Reed Road.

Six Flags representatives said KDC Solar will own, maintain and operate the equipment. The electricity generated by the solar panels would be used to power Jackson’s Great Adventure theme park, according to park executives.

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 of the property and thousands of trees will be removed from the site.

The application also proposes the construction of a solar array on a 4.5-acre Great Adventure employee parking lot.

Attorney Ray Shea, who represents the applicant, said the project is “in perfect alignment” with Jackson’s ordinances and he said it has already received approval from state, county and township regulatory entities.

“While opponents may have different viewpoints and preferences … the only reason we are here is for site plan approval,” Shea told the board. “We submit that we meet every aspect of [the township’s] ordinance.” In order to replace the trees that are cut down on the Reed Road parcel, Six Flags executives plan to plant trees throughout the theme park’s 2,200 acres. Over seven years, the plan calls for the planting of 2,975 trees annually.

Since the reduction in the scope of the proposed deforestation from 90 acres to 66 acres, representatives of the applicant testified that the remaining 24 acres are to be designated as wetlands and will remain untouched.

However, when pressed by Donato as to whether there are plans to produce a conservation easement on those 24 acres, civil engineer C. Richard Roseberry, of Maser Consulting, testified there was no such protection.

Without the conservation easement recorded, Donato posited that Six Flags representatives could return with plans to develop the remaining land.

“It’s possible, but right now the application is not to develop those 24 acres,” Roseberry said.

In regard to the proposed deforestation of 66 acres, residents who live near the Reed Road property voiced concerns about storm water drainage. They said the forested area naturally soaks up rain water.

“We have had properties completely underwater in previous storms,” Shari Wishengrad said. “What is going to happen to my basement? What is going to happen to my neighbor’s basement and the basements of everyone on the street?”

Roseberry said Maser Consulting conducted a storm water management study prior to submitting plans for the project. He said the study found that rain water drains west, away from nearby residential properties.

“We have a storm water management plan that reduces the amount of runoff from the site and complies with regulations,” he said.

Roseberry said the closest house on Reed Road is more than 800 feet away from the proposed location of the nearest solar array panel.

Opponents have said they believe Great Adventure could benefit from solar power without cutting down trees by constructing modern carport arrays in the theme park’s large public parking lot.

Citing the potential for better security in the parking lot because of the carport installation’s security lighting, Donato asked Roseberry if he had been directed to look for alternate locations for the solar power project.

Roseberry said he had not been asked to look for alternate sites for the solar arrays.

Opponents also expressed concern that the deforestation of the Reed Road property would negatively impact certain protected species which may be in the region.

Opponents said the Reed Road 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.

Additional cross-examination by Donato took place when she called upon Maser Consulting’s director of ecological services, Dr. Ray Walker, to testify about the presence of significant native species and the impact the project could have on the property.

The Nov. 9 hearing ran past the board’s 11:30 p.m. time limit and another meeting on the Six Flags application was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 23 at the municipal building.