Morven Solar rezoning proposed around Slaughter Creek, Little River @ Brooks County Planning Commission 2023-01-19

Update 2023-01-18: Agenda: One item, Morven Solar @ Brooks County Planning Commission 2023-01-19.

A large solar project, in agricultural fields and pecan groves scattered around wetlands, will be heard by the Brooks County Planning Commission at 5:30 PM this Thursday, January 19, 2023, at 610 S Highland Road, Quitman, GA 31643.

[Morven Solar, Slaughter Creek, Withlacoochee River]
Morven Solar, Slaughter Creek, Withlacoochee River

Staff’s recommendation:

Due to the staff’s concern of the amount of “prime farmland”, the quantity of jurisdictional wetlands, the threatened and candidate species potential impacts, and the amount of access roads because the parcels are not contiguous (especially Peach Road — dirt), the Staff recommends DENIAL of the applicant’s proposed use as a Large-Scale Solar Energy System.

WWALS is generally in favor of solar power, but this project raises serious doubts, most of which are expressed in the Staff Analysis.

The final decision will be made by the Brooks County Commission, 5:00 PM, Monday, February 6, 2023, also at 610 S Highland Road, Quitman, GA 31643.

The project is between Morven and Hahira, straddling Slaughter Creek, upstream from the Little River.

[Map: Slaughter Creek, Morven, Hahira in WLRWT]
Map: Slaughter Creek, Morven, Hahira in the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT)

The project is on Lawson Pond Road, Peach Road, and Guess Road.

[Morven Site Plan]
Morven Site Plan
PDF

Many feeder creeks run through there.

[Map: Morven Solar in WLRWt]
Map: Morven Solar in the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT)

The application includes this flood zone and wetlands map.

[USGS Wetlands and 100-Year Flood Zone]
USGS Wetlands and 100-Year Flood Zone
PDF

The staff report, the site plan, and the entire special exception application are on the WWALS website, all received in response to a WWALS open records request.

Here is the text of the Staff Analysis:

§ 36-67-3. Zoning proposal review standards

In any local government which has established a planning department or other similar agency charged with the duty of reviewing zoning proposals, such planning department or other agency shall with respect to each zoning proposal investigate and make a recommendation with respect to each of the matters enumerated in this Code section, as well as carrying out any other duties with which the planning department or agency is charged by the local government. The planning department or other agency shall make a written record of its investigation and recommendations, and this record shall be a public record. The matters with which the planning department or agency shall be required to make such investigation and recommendation shall be:

(1) Whether the zoning proposal will permit a use that is suitable in view of the use and development of adjacent and nearby property;

The proposed use of a large-scale solar energy system is suitable for agricultural zoned properties. However, the disconnected proposed layout of the solar system creates a larger impact area of 23 neighboring homes and a vast amount of farmland that is not consistent with the intent of Brooks County (See Number 5).

[Impacts Map: 5 mile radius from project extents]
Impacts Map: 5 mile radius from project extents
PDF

(2) Whether the zoning proposal will adversely affect the existing use or usability of adjacent or nearby property;

Staff is concerned with the potential impacts of the 127.05 Acres of jurisdictional wetlands and 10.15 acres of non-jurisdictional wetlands upon and leaving the properties. The properties range from 1-3 miles west of the Withlacoochee River. Although the applicant has submitted a preliminary Erosion Control Plan with the intention to submit full plans to the GA EPD, the concern is relating to maintenance of the site after construction (maintenance of the proposed 18 drainage basins, utilization of filter socks, any chemicals to be utilized for weed control).

[Erosion Control Plan]
Erosion Control Plan
PDF

There is also concern for the threatened and candidate species found upon the properties, the potential for habitats of these species, and migratory species to the properties.

[GA DNR Species Map: Gopher Tortoise, Indigo Snake, Frosted Flatwoods Salamander]
GA DNR Species Map: Gopher Tortoise, Indigo Snake, Frosted Flatwoods Salamander
PDF

Although the applicant is maintaining a 25 foot buffer from areas of present/potential wildlife and avoiding the area west of Section 2, the area of wildlife around the Transformer and Substation (near and adjacent to Section 1) remains a concern with the equipment and fencing.

[Appendix: Vegetative Buffer / Berm]
Appendix: Vegetative Buffer / Berm
PDF

(3) Whether the property to be affected by the zoning proposal has a reasonable economic use as currently zoned;

Yes, the current zoning of the 11 parcels proposed is AG — Agricultural and is currently being utilized for crops, timber, pasture land, and/or rural residences. Of the 952 acres proposed for the solar farm, 782 acres (82%) is considered “prime farmland” per the Federal Register or “farmland of statewide importance”. The applicant is also proposing clearing 13% (121.9 Acres) of timber from the properties. However, the existing pecan trees to be affected by Section 1 and 2 were not addressed in the tree survey. Existing vegetation is to be retained where possible for a vegetative buffer.

[Tree Survey w. tree cleared areas]
Tree Survey w. tree cleared areas
PDF

(4) Whether the zoning proposal will result in a use which will or could cause an excessive or burdensome use of existing streets, transportation facilities, utilities, or schools;

Due to the parcels not being contiguous, staff does expect some negative impacts on the roads due to the amount of access points for the solar sites spread across the parcels, especially on Peach Road which is a residential dirt road. They are proposing one access/culvert on Peach Road, two access points/culverts along Guest Road, and three access points/culverts along Lawson Pond Road. Lawson Pond Road is a gateway collector road that stretches from Lowndes County southwest into Brooks County. The rather busy road provides a rural, residential route from Interstate 75 and State Highway 122 west of Hahira to Hwy 133 east of Morven.

[Aerial Map]
Aerial Map
PDF

(5) If the local government has an adopted land use plan, whether the zoning proposal is in conformity with the policy and intent of the land use plan;

Per the Future Development Map in the adopted Brooks County 2027 Comprehensive Plan Community Agenda, the subject property is within the Agricultural character area. The proposed solar farm is not compliant with the objectives to protect farmland and the rural lifestyle of the Agricultural District.

[Zoning Map]
Zoning Map
PDF

(6) Whether there are other existing or changing conditions affecting the use and development of the property which give supporting grounds for either approval or disapproval of the zoning proposal.

The Morven Solar project will NOT lead to any permanent jobs working specifically for the Morven Solar Facility nor Pine Gate Renewables. However, they aim for the project to initiate the hiring of 30 permanent employees through a “PowerUp” apprenticeship type program to their sister company, Blue Ridge Power, who constructs their projects.


 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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4 thoughts on “Morven Solar rezoning proposed around Slaughter Creek, Little River @ Brooks County Planning Commission 2023-01-19

  1. Pingback: Agenda: One item, Morven Solar @ Brooks County Planning Commission 2023-01-19 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS) is Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

  2. Pingback: Pictures: sites of Morven Solar 2023-01-18 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (WWALS) is Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

    1. jsq Post author

      You saw more than one? I only found the one sign on GA 133. Also, this proposal is not like that last one that NextEra did in wooded wetlands. This one is more debatable. -jsq

      Reply

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