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Earth Day Hike Inspects Forest Targeted for Great Adventure's Solar Project Clearcutting

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Jackson – Under overcast Earth Day skies, a group of advocates, Jackson Township residents, and Gov. Jim Florio hiked on adjacent property to the 90 acres of forested land that Great Adventure is proposing to clearcut to build the largest solar installation in the state to examine the condition of the targeted woods and urge Great Adventure to reconsider the siting of this mammoth solar installation.

“The gratuitous cutting down of 18,000 trees is truly an abomination,” said Gov. Jim Florio. “We will pay a price for this action especially when alternative energy like solar power is available in a benign fashion.”

Advocates cited Great Adventure’s missed opportunity by not looking at an obvious siting alternative.

“We strongly support solar power. This could be a landmark example of a solar success story by using the park’s mammoth parking lots – instead it’s a tale of a company choosing to chop down 90 acres of forest when they don’t need to. This is Great Adventure’s great green mistake,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

This forest is an integral part of a larger forested area that is already protected. To the south are the Pinelands National Reserve and the DEP Colliers Mills Wildlife Management Area. To the north and east is the Francis Mills Conservation Area and conserved forested lands owned by a local archery club. Together, these provide a home for nearly 100 species of herbs, shrubs and trees, thousands of species animals, including critical habitat for two threatened species, the Northern pine snake and the barred owl.

This 90 acre forest is a rich ecosystem. It is an intact, fully functional habitat that it is not isolated, but connected to a large swath of forest lands, a greenbelt containing exceptional natural resources at the headwaters of both the Toms River, which feeds the Barnegat Bay, and the Crosswicks Creek which feeds the Delaware River. Clear-cutting the forest would also lead to sediment erosion that would pollute two adjoining Category One streams – one of the highest levels of protection the state grants,” said Emile DeVito, Ph.D, manager of science with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Advocates called the mitigation project proposed by Great Flags as inadequate. They said that replacing an intact 90 acre forest with a replanting plan spread out over seven years in various locations around the edges of the solar facility or elsewhere within the park is not equitable. As concerning is the rapid pace of the permit approval process by Jackson Township, the Board of Public Utilities and the Department of Environmental Protection.

“The current plan of clear cutting acres of upland forest is environmentally unsound.  Negative impacts of potential runoff, the forest destruction, wetlands and ground water issues, endangered species and downstream impacts especially for the Barnegat Bay would create a long term liability,” said Denise Garner, a member of the Jackson Twp. Environmental Commission who opposes the project.

Especially concerning to advocates are the potential impact on the watershed for Barnegat Bay, which continues to see declining water quality, especially during the summer.

“Barnegat Bay is under stress from over-development and nutrient pollution. The unnecessary removal of 90 acres of forest adjacent to a stream that drains to the Bay will contribute to the already poor water quality. Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson should reconsider their plan and move the solar panels to the parking lots which could have a double environmental benefit by reducing the thermal impact of the stormwater running off those lots. Best Management Practices or BMPs should be implemented and potential negative impacts to streams and Barnegat Bay considered,” said Britta Wenzel, executive director of Save Barnegat Bay.

New Jersey has a wealth of parking lots, and New Jersey has 16% of the nation’s installed solar carports. One of the largest solar parking lot installations on the East Coast is located at Rutgers University; 28 acres in size, it  produces 8 megawatts of power, powering roughly 1,000 homes.  Solar carports have another obvious advantage – they keep cars and visitors cool during hot summer months – the peak times for Great Adventure’s attendance.

“Solar is not a bright idea if you have to cut down thousands of trees for one project.  One of the goals of solar energy use is to reduce carbon pollution and clearcutting acres of forest is the antithesis.  We support Six Flags’ goal to use more renewable energy, but there are better locations and options than the proposed project,” said Kate Millsaps, conservation program coordinator, NJ Sierra Club

Numerous colleges, schools and businesses have installed solar carports across the state. Stockton College, which is in the New Jersey Pinelands, installed a nearly 1 megawatt carport more than 5 years ago, making it the largest in the country at the time. William Patterson University installed a 3.5 MW solar installation, split between rooftop arrays and carports.

“Clean energy need not – and should not be – a zero sum game,” said O’Malley. “Great Adventure could choose to be a sterling example of solar done right – instead it has designed a solar project that will damage the environment by clear-cutting a forest, and there’s nothing green about that.”