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County postpones solar farm decision

Members of the Pike County commission heard lengthy discussion about a proposed solar farm in Molena at their Feb. 28 meeting but voted unanimously to postpone making a decision. The 25- to 35-year contract would allow the solar farm to operate and would bring around $10 million in revenue to the county. The company has agreed to return the property to its original condition after the contract ends. The issue was heard by the board of appeals and was recommended for approval with many stipulations, including no use of herbicides for vegetation control, an evergreen buffer along Highway 18 as a visual screen and where possible, retaining the existing vegetation along the highway, a minimum 100-foot buffer from stream banks and a strong erosion and sediment control plan, with regular inspections to protect Elkins Creek. Property owner, USC Timber Holdings LLC and applicant, Madden Solar Center, requested the special exception to allow for a solar farm on a portion of the 1,371-acre property off Highway 18 and North Madden Bridge Road. According to Ryan Gilcrest of Madden Solar Center, the solar panels and related equipment would be located on a total of about 200 acres. Commissioners accepted the Environmental Review Committee’s report on the proposed solar farm, but requested additional stipulations, including asking for a 200 foot setback instead of the recommended 100 foot buffer. Director of Planning and Development had noted that the 100 foot buffer outlined by the committee was already in excess of the 50 foot buffer required by the county’s ordinance. The buffers would be along all property lines. Madden Solar Center, which is owned by Panasonic, a Fortune 500 Company, has partnered with Georgia Power on other projects of the same scale. A public hearing about the solar farm was held with five people speaking (or sending in a letter) in favor of the solar farm and seven people speaking (or sending in a letter) in opposition to the solar farm project. Gilcrest of Madden Solar Center said the project would bring in millions of revenue to the county with the use of very few county services. He also addressed some of the issues that were brought up by citizens in previous meetings. He noted that glare from solar farms is no longer an issue since technological advances mean panels are now darker and can even be set up near airports. He said inverters emit very little noise and with the buffers from the property lines, no one would be able to hear it. He said there would be no decrease in property values for Molena residents, since that issue has not been seen in areas where other solar farms were installed. He mentioned a few conditions that would cause issues for the project managers, noting that utility poles may need to be placed at the southwest corner of the property and the Army Corps of Engineers would work to make sure the project met all federal requirements. He said because of fire code, employees may need to access the solar farm from Nixon Road or North Madden Bridge Road. He said the condition making the special exception non-transferrable from one property owner and applicant to another would make the project un-financeable since banks wouldn’t loan on it with that condition and the condition would also infringe on the property owner’s property rights. Mark Woodall of Woodland urged the board to support the project, noting that it is good for the environment and for taxpayers. Those in opposition raised many concerns about the proposed solar farm. Allen Dodson said the solar farm is not suited for Molena and would be a glaring eyesore. Tim Dunson said he believes commercial, residential and industrial uses would generate more tax revenue and be better for the county. Jimmy Jeter said he has lived on North Madden Road for 20 years and any additional traffic from the solar farm would further destroy the road. Judy Glaze said they paid extra money to have a mountain view and the solar panels could ruin that and devalue their home. Christine Dunson said the acreage taken up by the farm would limit what the county could make over the next 20 to 30 years. After the public hearing was closed, commissioner James Jenkins said he believes the project would not provide a lot of jobs but if there were 600 homes built on the property over the next 25 years, the county would bring in revenues of around $23 million. Gilcrest was asked how many jobs the project would bring and he replied there would be around 100 jobs over about a year for the installation of the panels and there would be around five to seven continuous jobs for maintenance and operation. There was brief discussion about the type of panels that would be used and the height of the panels. Jenkins made a motion to postpone the issue and it was approved unanimously. Commissioners also heard that the Department of Transportation recently helped with litter pick up on Highways 18 and 109. ’We would like to thank them and to encourage the public to keep it clean,’ said Hanson. ‘We’ve got to have a conscious effort as a county and citizenry to quit throwing out trash on our roads. We need to make sure our kids are aware of the problem. The county will provide bags, signage, pickup sticks and will even cover the cost of disposing of the trash if it’s organized through county’s administrative office. We would also like to encourage residents to pick up trash along the roadsides at their own residences.’ The county also: ’¢ Approved a special exception in an A-R zoned district to allow residents to continue a tax preparation business on a property located on Turner Road. ’¢ Heard that employees of offices recently moved out of the courthouse to the annex building will be parking off the square to leave those spaces open for citizens once two large trees are cut down and the parking lot is resurfaced and striped behind the annex building. ’¢ Discussed bidding out the county’s propane services since prices are decreasing. It was noted the county uses a little more than 3,000 gallons a year. ’¢ Discussed bidding out insurance service providers in order to ensure the county is getting the best serviced and keeping prices as low as possible. ’¢ Heard from citizen Christine Dunson that animal control should be an issue discussed by commissioners, noting that some citizens are still not satisfied with the way recent shootings of dogs in the county were handled.

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