CARBONDALE — Wednesday’s Carbondale Planning Commission meeting was a false start.
The group was set to discuss further its potential recommendation of granting Brightfield Development another special use permit to develop a contaminated plot at 1555 N. Marion St. on the city’s northeast side — the former Kopper’s wood treatment facility.
The commission began its proceedings, announcing the rules of order for public comment on the the Brightfield solar array development. Members of the public were to have four minutes each to speak.
This seemed to be a non-starter. Several members of the full gallery expressed concern that their presentation of scientific data would take much longer than their allotment.
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Commission member Beau Henson raised a formal objection to the time limit and later questioned the immediacy with which the commission pushed the meeting forward. He said he had only been delivered a complicated packet of scientific analysis the night before. Other members concurred. Commission member Janet Lilly said she never received hers at all.
Henson also raised concern about letters sent to those in the immediate neighborhood around the proposed solar array. These were sent in the last week of August.
Ultimately he made a motion to defer the discussion to an October meeting so that public comment guidelines could be further discussed and more time be given to read over the documents provided to them. It passed unanimously.
The Brightfields development has been in the works in one form or another for more than a decade. The plan is to develop the sizable “brownfield” as it has been deemed by the Environment Protection Agency. It has also long been a point of contention for residents of Carbondale’s predominantly African-American northeast side.
Kopper’s was operating from 1902 to 1991 and treated railroad ties and other wood products by pressure-injecting a creosote preservative solution and other chemicals into the wood. This creosote is the contaminant that has residents so concerned.
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As previously reported by The Southern, the site has been cleaned up to EPA standards as set by the state. This was done by burying the contaminant under soil and other barriers. However, residents are concerned that disturbing the soil could release creosote back into the air and other parts of the local environment.
Rodney Cavitt, 72, said he has been a resident of Carbondale his whole life. He said his brother, Edward Cavitt, was a vocal opponent of the Brightfield Development, and he is trying to honor his brother’s legacy.
He said he has seen how bad the contamination got through the years and feels strongly that the damage is worse and will be worse than what the city and Brightfields are letting on. He said in the late 1960s, it got so bad people stopped gardening as much because they noticed a change in their produce. He blames this on the chemicals in the soil from Kopper's.
Cavitt also said he took issue with letters being sent from the city about developments to people living in its immediate area.
“I don’t think it’s fair they’re only sending letters to people in certain districts,” he said.
Daniel Voss is vice president of new markets for Brightfields and he was there to present the company’s project to the commission and to the community Wednesday. He said the auction process for bidding the job out was set to begin at the end of October. He wasn’t clear if the early October meeting will put the development behind.
He was upfront about Brightfields’ belief that the project will be safe.
“We’re brownfield developers. We look to (improve) sites that have been damaged,” he explained.
He said he understands the concern about disturbing the contaminant beneath the soil. However, he said the solar panels would not be built deep enough to break into the dirty layer beneath the earth cap.
He said the energy produced by the array could power about 4,000 homes, and that the power generated there would have to be purchased by Ameren as per state law. He added that the taxes are where the city benefits.
Robin Johnson is a resident of the northeast side and said she doesn’t buy it. She said she believes there is more in it for the city than it is letting on.
Johnson was there with Marilyn Tipton, an organizer in the resistance to the development, who said she planned to speak during the meeting. However, Tipton declined to sit for a formal interview. She wanted to wait until the October meeting to speak publicly. She did give a statement, though.
“We are not opposed to solar. We are opposed to them putting solar on contaminated land,” she said.
The Brightfields discussion will resume during a meeting Oct. 3.