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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ A proposed solar farm in High Springs has raised the ire of some residents. CHW Professional Consultants Executive Vice President and Principal Planner Gerry Dedenbach provided an update on the project to the City Commission at the April 14 meeting. Dorothy Pernu representing Duke Energy was also present.

Dedenbach says the City Commission could expect to receive applications for Land Use and Zoning changes within a month or so. He said that in the next week or so he expected to submit the development plan application to the City. The plan includes all of the specifics about the overall site. If the plan is approved, Dedenbach hopes to have it finalized this June, which means construction could begin in mid-summer this year.

Commissioner Katherine Weitz read two emails from people who were unable to attend the meeting, but asked that their comments be read into the record. The first was from Jennifer and Stephen Davis whose property abuts the property under consideration for the solar array. They noted concerns that the solar panels would damage the ground, reduce the property values of the homes near it and raise the temperature.

Weitz read a second letter by Christina and George Tatum who raised concerns that their property backs up to the City’s wastewater treatment plant and noted medical issues within their family. They said their well was contaminated by e-coli and that two family members had serious folic acid deficiency. They were concerned about the wildlife that would be displaced by this construction and would end up in yards and on the roads.

The Tatums also said that trees were being burned on the property under consideration and they had to buy air purifiers for their home and that their son wasn’t able to stay in his room because of the smoke.

It was noted that because the construction and any smoke arising from the property was not generated by Duke Energy, it was difficult to see how Duke could be responsible for the poor air quality.

Commissioner Ross Ambrose pointed out that a solar array does not leak and that they are not routinely washed so damage to the water supply and wells would be unlikely to occur.

Weitz maintained her contention that Duke and other power agencies have pushed for legislation that would eliminate property owners’ ability to net meter or sell excess power back to the power companies after 2023. She pointed to other legislative actions that also increase dependence on power agencies.

She suggested that Duke place their solar array on any one of four closed landfills in Alachua County rather than on land near homeowners.

Ambrose referenced Duke’s right to place their solar array on the property based on the City’s Comprehensive Plan. He also said he is withholding judgment until he sees the site plan. “We need to hear what they have to say and hold them accountable.”

Ambrose said the solar plant would increase the City’s tax base. “We don’t have to pave more roads. We don’t have to provide infrastructure. We don’t have to increase fire protection. And we will be removing a dairy farm from a sensitive recharge area and preserving that recharge area for at least 35 years.”

Resident Stacy Gay addressed the Commission to say he didn’t think the solar farm was a problem. “It’s not Chernobyl. We need to look farther down the road.”

“They have not submitted their site plan yet,” said City Manager Ashley Stathatos. “We review those very carefully.”

City Attorney Andrea Parker said that Florida Statutes allow solar farms to be permitted by right on Agricultural zoned properties. “However,” she said, “the City can specify buffering and other items.”

In other City business, a site plan for Simed Medical Office, 23741 West U.S. 27 across the street from City Hall was unanimously approved.

A 50/50 match was approved for a Department of Environmental Protection grant totaling $822,000. The City’s match amount of $422,000 was approved using impact fees and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fees. The grant will phase out 22 septic tanks east of the force main that runs down CR 236. A lift station will also be part of that project, which will serve other homes as well.

Assistant City Manager Bruce Gillingham said, “Once this phase is complete, there will be another phase to this project probably next year.”

Stathatos said a facility plan will be on the next agenda. “We will be looking at impact fees, which will likely have to increase to pay for more projects.” Currently, the City has $561,000 in impact fees, which will be reduced by the matching grant funds.

In other City business, the Commission unanimously approved the purchase of a rescue water craft for use by High Springs Fire Department personnel for water rescue. “Since we have owned the Canoe Outpost, we have been called out five times to help rescue people on the water,” said Gillingham. “We already have 90 percent of the equipment we would need for these types of rescues.” A certified boat captain is a member of the fire department and personnel can work under his supervision. The price of the boat is $35,467 and is being purchased from Tailwinds, a High Springs company.

The Commission approved the $155,294 purchase of a brush truck for the High Springs Fire Department. The existing 1997 brush truck has been out of service for 18 months. The City has located a new four-door 2022 Dodge Ram 5500 4X4 chassis purchased by the Federal Forestry Department that was not picked up.

The Commission is renaming part of U.S. 27 from U.S. Highway 441 to High Springs Main Street as 186th Place for E-9 1 1 purposes. Commissioners agreed that having numbers makes it easier for people to locate the addresses.

The next City Commission meeting is scheduled for April 28.

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