ELIZABETHTOWN — The board room at the Elizabethtown Municipal Building was, well … electric at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.
The hot topic was a proposal from South River Land Co., LLC for a solar farm to be located on M&M Street. The proposed farm would cover 29.3 acres of a 59.3-acre lot between Peanut Plant Road and MLK Drive and would house enough panels to power 700 homes. Power generated would be sold to Duke Energy and distributed among the power grid.
Existing trees would buffer the construction on the south, east and west sides, and the company is proposing to construct a buffer on the north side as well. Panels would sit approximately 9 feet high and would be enclosed by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.
South River representatives who were on hand to explain the proposal touted it as being free from many of the problems endemic in other types of permits currently allowed by the council. According to company representatives, the farm will be free of odors and dust, will have no associated noise audible to adjoining properties, will have less traffic than a residential home (about one or two visits per month), and are, in appearance, no more aesthetically displeasing than greenhouses. They noted that the height of the panels make them less obtrusive than any residential construction.
When council members questioned whether a nearby stream that floods quickly could handle any regrading of the land, company representatives said they plan to grade less than 5 percent of the property. They also noted that, in approximately 30 years when the panels have exhausted their life expectancy, the project will be decommissioned and materials removed.
Not everyone was convinced, however. Adjoining property owner Jerry McKoy voiced his concerns.
“My greatest concern is taking all the trees out of the area,” he said. “When a rainstorm comes, everything will wash out. My second question is how it will benefit the people in the area, and my third question is why is it being put in a black area?”
Company representatives, in response to the second question, noted the lack of impact on the area and the potential for greater economic development with companies looking for green energy. Mayor Sylvia Campbell fielded the third question, informing McKoy that several sites were considered for the project.
Because an earlier Planning Board meeting didn’t attain quorum and couldn’t vote on the proposal, and because the council wanted additional time to investigate the unaddressed issue of solar farms, members instituted a 90-day moratorium and held the public hearing open until the Planning Board meets Monday.
In other business, the council:
— Heard a presentation about a Connect NC Bond grant application for Tory Hole Park. Angie Melvin reported that the town currently has roughly $475,000 of the $580,000 needed to complete phase one of the riverwalk and improvements to Tory Hole. She also said she is looking into using Connect NC money for the boardwalk and sidewalk construction.
— Held a public hearing for, and approved, an amendment for a backflow and cross contamination program for the water supply. Under it, certain businesses and residents will be required to have a backflow device and to have it inspected annually.
— Held open a public hearing for the construction of a charter school on Airport Road. Like the solar farm issue, the proposal was tabled to obtain the Planning Board’s input next Monday.
— Approved a grant agreement for design services for the new terminal building at the airport.
— Approved $11,000 from the general fund for an interior design contract for the new terminal building.
— Heard an update on the Leinwand Park annex. The soccer park and skate park have been completed, as have the walking trail, lights, and picnic shelter. Still to be completed are a dog park and possibly some static exercise equipment. Council will consider at next month’s meeting the process for naming the park.
— Heard an update on Hurricane Matthew. Neither water mains nor water pressure was affected by the storm. The town has collected 395 tons of debris to date with the help of the towns of Maiden and Rutherfordton. Collection of debris is ongoing. The floating dock from Tory Hole is out for repair, and DOT will repair the bank of the highway that slid into Tory Hole. The town is applying for $596,000 from FEMA.
The next meeting of the Elizabethtown Town Council will be Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.