Daily Egyptian

Carbondale community members voice concern over proposed solar farm

By Claire Cowley, Staff Reporter

The question of whether Carbondale should allow Brightfields Development LLC to conduct a solar farm building project on property located at 1555 N. Marion St. is up for discussion.

This site, where the Kopper’s Wood-Treating plant was previously located, treated wood products to prevent decay of wood to be used for such things as railroad ties and utility poles, Marilyn Tipton, a resident of the district, wrote in a document for a city meeting in the Carbondale Civic Center on Monday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which began studying the site in 1981, found creosote used at the site has contaminated the soil and groundwater, according to a 2004 article from the Daily Egyptian. The EPA has classified creosote as a cancer-causing agent.

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(See more: Citizens consider lawsuit against factory for exposure to contamination)

Tipton wrote the plant shut down in 1991 when it became public the creosote chemical in the wood treatment caused health and environmental issues.

Tipton included community health concerns surrounding Koppers when it was active.

“The general complaint described the odor as noxious and bothersome, causing nausea and eye and throat irritation. When the facility stopped operations, the complaints stopped,” she wrote.

There was soil that was contaminated by this plant, Dan Voss, Brightfields Development LLC vice president, said.

“The solar project, it’s being developed in a way so that it won’t have any contact with the impacted soils that I think the community is worried about,” Voss said.

Voss also said there has been a cap placed over that material and the design they’re using to place solar panels in that area of the site would see them placing the solar on the surface.

“The mechanisms used to separate folks from the impacted soils involves a membrane and a soil cap and our solar systems would simply sit on top of all that,” Voss said. “We would not be disturbing the contaminated soil at all.”

Voss said they would be operating on top of the cap and depending on the type of footings, the feet that the soil is sitting on, they may need to lay gravel down or sit the footings on top of the soil that’s there now.

“On the other area of the site where testing has shown there is no contamination, we would be using a system where we would drive a fence post into the ground and attach the solar to it,” Voss said.

Voss said it would not present an environmental or health risk.

In the summer of 1962, a fish kill occurred in the Big Muddy river due to phenol poisoning. “The cause of this incident was traced to an apparent overflow of a lagoon at the Kopper’s site,” Tipton wrote.

Carmen Suarez, a three-time alum of SIU, said this project shouldn’t be causing environmental impact where they are.

“Has this company built these plants elsewhere, in other small towns?” Suarez said. “But, the big question is understanding why it is that part of Carbondale was selected?”

Suarez said one would wonder why manufacturing companies place plants in areas of people of color around the country.

Brightfields Development LLC is looking at this site because they develop on brownfield sites, Voss said. Brownfield sites are used for industrial purposes like mines and factories.

“There isn’t an alternative use for the land because you don’t want to disturb it,” Voss said. “For that type of land, solar is sort of the ideal ongoing use because it just simply sits on top, it has no moving parts.”

Suarez said it sounds like this neighborhood is saying they just don’t want the solar farm there.

“It’s just they’re always picking communities of color to have things that could potentially be dangerous,” she said.

Voss said he thinks the key point is they’re a company focused on improving health and environmental outcomes.

“We look to create a positive environmental outcome and a positive health outcome. And so from our standpoint, we don’t do projects where they’re going to have a negative impact on the community,” Voss said.  

He also said Brightfields Development LLC wants to ensure the site is safe, that anyone they employ is safe on the site, and nothing they do would impact or harm the existing work being done, enhancing the site, making it safer and environmentally sound.

“The agreement that we look to have is to lease a piece of land from the current owners, which is Beazer [East Inc.] and the condition of that lease is that the land is safe,” Voss said.   

Suarez said the leadership of the solar company, the leadership of Carbondale, the leadership of our black community, our political and civic leadership,  and business leadership should work together.

“We’ve got a lot of brain power here,” Suarez said. “I’m sure this collective brainpower could find a great location for this solar farm and elevate and respect the concerns of our neighbors in the northeast and really, that’s what diversity, equity and inclusion is all about.”

To voice concerns or listen in on the debate a public hearing will be held Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

Staff reporter Claire Cowley can be reached at ccowley@dailyegyptian.com.

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