DANVILLE — Even as a planning commission develops a possible amendment to the Montour Zoning Ordinance — an amendment that will address the 1,000-acre Montour Solar One solar farm — a growing number of county residents are expressing opposition to amending the existing ordinance.
An amendment to an existing ordinance that will address the Montour Solar One project is currently in its early stages, said Montour County Commissioner Ken Holdren at Tuesday morning's commissioner's meeting.
The ordinance in question is the Montour Zoning Ordinance, which ensures orderly, appropriate and compatible development that produces economic growth and preserves the agricultural areas locally.
Darlene Holdren, an Anthony Township resident (not related to commissioner Ken Holdren) who lives across the road from the proposed solar farm, told commissioners she had a petition of 289 residents who are opposed to the amending of the existing ordinance — to accommodate Montour Solar One.
"A utility to the scale of 1,000 acres," she contends, "is not appropriate or compatible development."
According to the existing ordinance the intent of the agricultural district is to "preserve and protect the semi-rural open space and farming characteristics of the county," Darlene said in a prepared statement that she handed to the commissioners. "Also it is to promote land cultivation and agricultural products. Thirdly, it is to permit those lands best suited for agriculture to be utilized for that purpose."
"Development of utility-scale solar on agricultural land does not preserve the definition of our agricultural district," Holdren said.
Darlene ended by "encouraging our community commissioners, zoning hearing board and planning commission to deny the allowance of utility-scale solar on agricultural land."
Meanwhile, "a subcommittee is working on developing the recommendations for the ordinance," Holdren said.
There is a planning commission meeting today that is open to the public.
Holdren took a moment to rectify a misconception about the project.
"I need to debunk the idea that has been going around that the county is going to get $1 million over the next 30 years from the project owners," he said. "No one has come forward to us with any type of offer from Talen or Montour Solar One. So I don't know what is being said publically in Anthony Township but that is not true.
"I want to dispel that rumor," he continued.
"So anyway, we are early on in the process. We have a lot to do and we have been collecting comments from residents and we know how they feel," Holdren said.
Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners awarded a CARES Act nonprofit award of $5,000 to the Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corporation.
That amount will cover costs that have accrued during COVID, Holdren said.
The county commissioners were awarded $446,000 in FEMA money for the acquisition and demolition of three properties in Derry Township. Those properties are often flooded, said SEDA-Council of Government representative Teri Provost, who explained the award to the commissioners.
The meeting was moved from the downstairs conference room to the courtroom on the second floor due to the number of people in attendance and the need for social distancing.
A few hours after the commissioner's meeting, Taryne Williams, a media consultant for Talen Energy, forwarded a letter to The Danville News. The letter was from Fred Gaffney, president of the Columbia-Montour Chamber of Commerce, and addressed to members of the Montour Planning Commission.
Gaffney in the letter said the board members of the chamber "encourages the Montour County Planning Commission to develop zoning that allows for solar farms while reasonably protecting the environment and neighboring residents and businesses.
"... in hearing the concerns of residents and others in northern Montour County related to the Montour Solar One project, zoning language should address development setbacks, glare, vegetative and other screenings, and provide for the responsible removal of the equipment at the end of the project or the useful life of the equipment."