Darke County Parks Commissioners discuss solar project

By Tammy Watts
DailyAdvocate.com

GREENVILLE — The Darke County Parks District Board of Commissioners meeting was held Thursday, Nov. 11. Several members of the Darke County Citizens Preservation Association (DCCPA) were in attendance, to question the Parks District’s role in granting easements to Apex Clean Energy for the proposed 2,400-acre Painter Creek Solar Project.

Joyce Conrad opened the public comments by voicing her concerns about drainage issues, and also loss of wildlife habitat. Conrad, along with her husband Charlie, and several neighbors, collectively spent $81,000 for drainage tile to correct a watershed problem affecting their properties. Water runs off from the proposed solar project area onto the Conrads’ land, and they are also concerned that the drainage tile they just installed will be damaged when underground cables are run for the solar field.

“Solar panels would be on both sides of my property, less than 300 feet away, and the well is only 250 feet away,” she added, expressing concern about toxic materials leaching into the aquifer.

According to the Parks Commissioners, very little was known about the scope of the project when the Parks District was first approached on Feb. 4, 2021.

“When we gave the easement for cabling, we had no idea where the solar would be located,” Parks Commissioner John Cook stated.

Parks Director Roger Van Frank said that initially, selling the easement seemed prudent, as a way to gain extra revenue. He stated that Darke County Parks are good custodians of taxpayer dollars, and expressed appreciation for the passage of last year’s levy.

“However, I have no moral authority to tell someone what they can do with their land,” he said of landowners who had already signed leases with Apex.

“I understand you can do what you want with your property, but when you start encroaching on others, it’s another thing,” countered Charlie Conrad.

Mike Homan, another DCCPA member, stated that power generated from the solar project will not be for local use. Van Frank confirmed that he had learned that recently, contrary to his original understanding of the project. “We have solar panels at Bish Nature Center, but those directly benefit us,” he said, prompting Homan to ask, “would you reconsider buying out of the contract?”

Van Frank stated that the Parks District has already contacted an attorney. “We will be relying on legal support to see if rescinding is a possibility,” Commissioner Mike Henderson added.

Another concern raised during the meeting, was that Ares Managed Funds acquired a majority stake in Apex on October 5, 2021, fueling speculation as to the future of the company: as stakeholders change, so may their interests and agreements. “They may not even be around 30 to 50 years from now (the duration of the leases); then what happens?” one attendee postulated.

Van Frank concluded the meeting by thanking residents for keeping the Parks District Commissioners informed.

To contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts, email [email protected]