By Briana Vannozzi
You might expect environmentalists to be giddy over the prospect of a 66-acre solar site.
But when building that generation facility means clearing out existing woodlands — 15,000 trees to be exact — environmental groups are finding themselves on the rare position of fighting a green energy project.
“Our concern is that this will give green energy a black eye,” said New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel.
Six Flags Great Adventure wants to use the solar panels to bring electricity to every inch of the 510-acre theme park — from the ‘coasters to the cotton candy.
“People support solar and they want to see everybody go to renewable energy, but the problem is you can’t destroy a forest, especially one that is environmentally sensitive. Its headwater streams are important high quality waters,” Tittel said.
Members of the town council and planning board didn’t return our repeated requests for an interview.
There’s been months of meetings and public testimony criticizing plans to erect solar panels, transformers and a substation on the land. A lawsuit by six environmental groups is ongoing.
“They could build it over their parking lot. They could build it over their detention basins, the staging area where people come in,” Tittel said.
But a park spokesperson tells NJTV News there is no alternative spot. Even the main parking lot isn’t large enough to accommodate the project. Saying it would pose safety and operations issues and cause problems for special events and future development. Six Flags representatives maintain the park has always been a good custodian to the environment, in a statement pointing out that “…this project will reduce carbon emissions by 31 times more than the trees and shrubs that will be removed…” and the “…project is a positive for the environment and will not harm the habitats of threatened or endangered species, nor impair protected wetlands or watersheds.”
“Quite frankly Great Adventure’s story has been shifting over the course of the past year, and we have multiple examples from Rutgers, to William Paterson to even Lincoln Financial field with the Eagles where companies and organizations have put solar panels on top of parking lots,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
The solar farm will back up to a neighborhood, where homeowners have been highly vocal.
“We learned that through this whole process there could be possible flooding to our area. Also, I know that the panels at the end of their life can become toxic so we’re worried about water contamination and all of that,” said Jackson resident Liliana Reichenbach.
Environmental groups are still considering whether they’ll file a new lawsuit for this second application. They’re still awaiting a hearing in Ocean County Superior Court. They say the fight boils down to one notion — right project, wrong place.