Solar panel farm vote delayed by Carbondale City Council - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Solar panel farm vote delayed by Carbondale City Council

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CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A controversial topic about the development of a solar panel farm in Carbondale was tabled at Tuesday night's city council meeting. 

Residents filled the Civic Center hoping to hear an answer about the future of the old Koppers Wood Treatment Facility on the northeast side of Carbondale. 

Margaret Nesbitt was one of the many people disappointed at Tuesday night's meeting.  Nesbitt has been a resident of Carbondale since 1940 and lives about 10 blocks away from the empty land. 

"I was really ready for the council people who I thought were educated to the community and educated to the works of the northeast to vote," Nesbitt said.

The city of Carbondale is talking with BrightField's Development about a solar farm on the land of the old wood facility. 

Daniel Voss, Vice President of BrightField's Development, did not have the numbers Mayor Mike Henry wanted on Tuesday. After the two spoke on the phone, they decided the best thing to do was to hold off on voting. 

"The mayor said it would be very helpful if you could give us a number that we could work with because it's important to look at the benefits the project provides," Voss said. 

The project Voss is talking about is solar panels covering about 80 acres of land. 

"Around 80 acres of panels at about 20 watts is around 4,000 homes worth of electricity."

For decades, workers at the wood treatment plant used a solution called creosote to stop wood from decaying, but it ended up contaminating the soil and making workers sick. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said creosote can irritate the eyes, skin or lungs and people have died in rare cases. 

"These are sites that typically have been a hazard to the environment and we can turn them around and have them to do things for local folks and the environment," Voss said. 

The EPA has tested samples at the site and says the soil is no longer contaminated. 

"A majority of the panels would be sitting in the area where there was contamination, and that contamination is being covered over with a protective cap and the panels sit on top of that," Voss said.

Residents like Nesbitt say that would much rather see that space as a way to remember those who worked there.

"It should be a monument built in honor of people who have committees suicide that didn't know they were doing it," Nesbitt said. "They were doing their jobs, trying to raise a family."

Voss says he understand why residents are struggling with ideas of a solar panel farm but hope they see what it can do for the community.

"I think there is a lot of history associated with the site and I don't think it's necessarily just the solar project, in fact it's clear it not just the solar project," Voss said. "There is a lot of history between the community and the site that's wrapped up in this."

Voss says to develop an area with 80 acres of solar panels cost $30-40 million, but it would cost the city nothing. 

The item will be on the next city council meeting on October 23rd. 

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