Daily Egyptian

Brightfields request for solar array project permit renewal denied due to negative impact on environment, residents


The Carbondale planning and zoning commission denied the renewal for a special use permit for Brightfields Inc. solar array farm.

The proposed location for a solar array farm at the old Koppers wood treating plant site is being opposed due to creosote chemical soil contamination, northeast community members, said.  

“We live in a society that relies on an ever increasing amount of energy every year in order to maintain what we call a normal, functioning economy,” Nick Smaligo, a meeting attendant, said.   

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Smaligo also said the men who worked at the Kopper’s site endured harmful conditions and racism.

“You have to take into account that fundamentally we’re human beings,” Smaligo said.

Smaligo said this place has a history that is deeply, deeply ruptured and frankly the most honest recommendation that the planning commission could make, would be to say the city has no legitimate authority.

“All my childhood life I’ve lived there,” Shelia Brown, whose family stayed at 401 E. Knight St., said.

Brown also said her experience living across the street from the old Kopper’s site was one that resided under a cloud of smoke.

“As you’re walking, there’s dust falling on you and this is all the time,” Brown said. “This wasn’t just one day or month and there would be this smell that occurred daily from the plant.”

Brown said her families clothes would have that smell on them and even the food grown out of their backyard was impacted by contamination.

“My mother believed in gardens and we ate that food, not knowing that that area was contaminated,” Brown said. “And it was hard to breathe in that smoke stuff.”

Brown said she choose to come to the meeting because her father, Willie Neal passed away in 2013 from lung cancer.

“In 2003, me, him, and some concerned citizens did a march from Wall street to Thomas school [to protest usage of the Kopper’s site],” Brown said.

Brown also said her father, husband and other men in that neighborhood who worked at the Kopper’s plant suffered burns, rashes and sickness from their creosote exposure.

“We were fighting to keep them from putting anything out there back then, [now we are fighting again],” Brown said.

Brown also said they fought to ask the city to please not sell that area and they wanted them to use it as a memorial for the deaths it caused.

“I’m not against solar, don’t get me wrong,” Brown said. “I’m just against them putting it in that area.”

Donald Monty, the acting mayor of Carbondale in 2015, said he thinks its a good use for that land and thinks anybody can agree that the land is contaminated.

“The proposed installation of the solar facility would able the land to be used in a productive manner, without disturbing the contaminate which is buried beneath it,” Monty said.

Monty also said the site, although adjacent to a residential area it is separated by an already existing secure tree line which means there won’t be a visible, smell or sound issue.

“Those were my basic reasons why I think [the special use] should be approved,” Monty said. “To give the piece of land a productive use and a use that will not have any negative impact on the adjoining areas.”

There were seven criteria listed in the agenda that would permit the special use by the city council after the planning commission decision.  

“The special use will permit and encourage an environment of sustained desirability and stability and that it will be in harmony with the character of the surrounding neighborhood,” section C of the agenda, said.

This criteria was denied by the commission during voting.

“The establishment, maintenance, or operation of the special use will not be detriment to or endanger the public health, safety, or general welfare,” the section, said.

This criteria was also denied.

Senior planner for the city, Travis Taylor, said, all seven criteria on the list have to be voted in favor of for the special use permit to be approved by the commission.

“One by one by one, so if any one of those seven were to fail to not get majority, then that means that this commission would not be able to support the recommendation,” Taylor said.

Monty said the commission members listened to all the testimony and they drew the conclusion that they thought was appropriate.

“The ultimate decision is going to be made by the city council,” Monty said.

The next address of Brightfields special use permit renewal request meeting will be Oct. 9 at City Hall.

Social: Staff reporter Claire Cowley can be reached at [email protected]

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