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Carbondale council votes to shut down

Melissa McCutchen speaks to Carbondale City Council about a proposed solar project Monday evening during a special meeting. 

CARBONDALE — The Carbondale City Council on Monday voted unanimously to deny a special use permit to Brightfields Development LLC to build a solar array on the site of the old Koppers Tie Plant at 1555 N. Marion St. in Carbondale during a special meeting.

Mayor Mike Henry called the meeting, and explained that comments would be limited to four minutes per resident. He also reminded residents that the comments would have be about the topic the council was discussing.

He then asked for any comments on topics other than Brightfields project from first council members, then the public. After a little confusion about which topics were being discussed, the mayor moved on the special use permit.

Daniel Voss, vice president of new markets for Brightfields, gave a short presentation about the proposed solar array.

He said the project would be an initial investment of $35 to $40 million and would net $3.4 million to the Carbondale region, including $1.9 million in tax revenues for the region over 25 years and $1.5 million in community benefits up front over 10 years. In addition, the site would produce 35 million kilowatt hours of local clean electricity every year or enough electricity to power 4,000 households each year.

“This is the lowest impact of all the alternatives and will not disturb impacted soil,” Voss said.

The mayor called for a motion on the project.

Councilman Jeff Doherty moved that the council deny the special use permit for Brightfields. Councilwoman Carolin Harvey seconded his motion.

The mayor asked for council comments on the motion. Several council members voiced their support for solar energy, but added that the residents of the northeast Carbondale do not want this project.

“I fear we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Councilman Tom Grant said.

“It is the best possible use for that land, if it’s ever going to be used for anything commercial,” Henry said.

He talked about possible uses for the community benefits funding, but admitted he had not decided how he would vote.

Then residents had a chance to speak.

“We don’t have a problem with solar or Brightfields. We don’t want it on that site because it is contaminated,” said Rodney Morris of Concerned Citizens of Carbondale, whose property borders the old Koppers property. “Our problem is with the city not getting Beezer to clean up the land.

Ed Dorsey, of Carbondale NAACP, reminded the Council they listened to other neighborhoods when they wanted a stop sign or did not want a club relocated to an empty church building. He asked them to also listen to the residents of northeast Carbondale.

Melissa McCutchen said she was speaking on behalf of her father who was home sick probably from exposure to chemicals from the Koppers Plant as a child. She had several questions for the council: Why would you put the project so close to a residential area? Who controls zoning laws in the city? And finally, how much is a life worth?

“How can the northeast side be stakeholders when they were not included at the beginning?” asked the Rev. Darryl Cox.

Brian Klubek, an emeritus professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, again expressed concerned about the way soil sampling was done at the site.

Dr. Anna Jackson reminded the Council that they were elected to take care of the people in the room, many of whom are residents of northeast Carbondale.

Henry reminded the council they could stop the debate and call for a vote at any time. Ernestine Hughlett stood ready to speak as the council entertained a motion to stop the debate. The council voted six to one to stop the debate, with Adam Loos as the lone no vote.

The next vote was for the special use permit. The vote was unanimous to deny the permit.

“I was a little surprised it was unanimous. We’ve been waiting to hear from the neighborhood. They showed up and we heard from them,” Henry said after the meeting.

The next Carbondale City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 13.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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