A few county residents spoke during last Thursday’s public hearing on the proposed zoning text amendment to allow industrial solar energy facilities in most areas of the county.
STACY TABB, Shepherdstown resident: Here we are again with an opportunity to craft a zoning ordinance that is permissive of the new development moving forward as well as structured to provide the necessary protections for the county that allow appropriate future new land uses. There is zoning in the land use maps in the comprehensive plan that are supposed to provide the guidance for the successful growth and preservation of our well-established county. But what good are these if we don’t follow and apply their principles?
The conditional use process has been a major request of the public, and I have to say it shouldn’t require a wasting of tax funds for legal fees to fight lawsuits by your constituents to reach an acceptable change. These proposed solar facilities require an extremely large footprint unlike anything currently here. Changing to the [conditional use] permit to give the careful consideration to each project is paramount. And we should apply this in the entire county with meaningful conditions.
These facilities have the potential to cause a significant impact on surrounding residents. Within the urban growth boundaries and the majority of existing homes, we will be confined along the perimeters with a security fence. Within the proposed amendment, a six foot high fence with a 50-foot buffer is what locks you in. How do future utilities such as water and sewer connect neighborhoods now a 1,000 acres apart? Without wildlife passageways or corridors, where do the animals go? Possums, raccoons, fox, deer, bear are pushed into our living spaces. The important ecosystem of our environment has been given no consideration.
A new neighbor of mine who recently purchased five acres decided to install a fence around their entire property. Now the fox are seen living in a culvert. The deer that used to cross must find a new route. Wildlife is forced to the roads and other yards. This is five acres. Imagine 800 acres.
Will the rocky landscape be free from explosive blasting to achieve the optimal grading for solar panels? After the five projects that have already been studied by the regional [PJM Interconnection organization that regulates the transmission of electricity over power networks] will the existing transmission lines be at full capacity and be allowed to expand through our country roads and land by, right or future eminent domain? Now is the time to define the proximity of these installations to our neighbors and infrastructure.
Expand the buffer and setbacks greater than 50 feet. And include a passageway to take into account your existing residents, those you have been elected to represent, who will be negatively impacted in the future when the standards of development has given preference to business instead of the common good. This is part of the reason why people leave West Virginia.
People, please look to the future. Give residents the hope to want to stay. Jefferson County is desirable because it has a preserved rich history, a beautiful productive landscape and a well-balanced quality of life, and it’s your responsibility to maintain that.
SUSAN HOUGH, Kabletown resident: I’m speaking on behalf of Oakwood Farm and the Hough family in total support of the solar ordinance in Jefferson County. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve spoken in support of allowing solar in the county as this process has been so ongoing with no resolution. We feel that the stipulations that have been requested by opposing parties have been thoughtfully studied and met by the county officials, and the time has come to resolve the issue once and for all.
Farmers deserve the right to make a living from the land that they owned—and in our case have owned for generations—by allowing them to diversify their operations and place solar panels on their land.
We sincerely hope that any issues with this process has been resolved and can now move forward. And I also would like to say that housing developments are a huge footprint on the county. And as farmers we don’t see people leaving West Virginia. We see people coming into West Virginia, therefore allowing all these housing developments. And we feel that solar is a much more viable option than that.