Eagle nest puts cloud over solar project

By Scott Mahoney - For the Enterprise

Discovery of an eagle’s nest has put construction of a 20-acre Wellington solar field in jeopardy, said mayor Hans Schneider and village administrator Steve Pyles.

“It really does make that location very difficult, so we’re exploring another location that we have in the community,” Pyles told village council on Monday. “It would involve two partial sites that would add up to where we were before we discovered the eagle’s nest.”

The project is planned near the city’s reservoir and water plant near Jones Road.

Mark Rosemark, Wellington’s water department superintendent, took the opportunity to voice concerns he has about that proposed site in addition to discovery of the nest.

“I look at my responsibility at the reservoir with my absolute priority being the water and the dam of that reservoir,” he said. “The reservoir is our number one asset and it’s our biggest liability in this community.”

Rosemark said clear-cutting trees from the location goes against what was done years ago when the reservoir was constructed and jeopardizes the wildlife that resides there.

“My feeling is because of the nature of that asset, and because of the importance of the habitat the village of Wellington chose to plant and reforest many years ago following construction of that reservoir, I think we can demonstrate it’s an important part of that entire scene out there,” he said. “We’re talking about wildlife that inhabits that forest and the adjacent areas. It really is a question of cost versus benefits.”

Rosemark made it clear he is not against the solar project as a whole, just the proposed location.

“I believe there is a very definite economic benefit available to the people of Wellington by moving in the direction of the solar field,” he said. “My reservation is site. I think it’s an inappropriate site. That’s my view, and obviously there are other views.”

Zoning board of appeals member Al Kimmich also addressed council with concerns. While he stated he doesn’t support the current location, he also said he doesn’t support switching from AMP Ohio to AEP Energy (the company behind the solar field) or signing a 20-year contract with AEP.

“When you deal with a private utility on your own, you’ll become the victim of fine print that will haunt you for 20 years,” Kimmich said. “Wellington was in that same predicament 40 years ago with many other small communities. Joining with them and AMP Ohio enabled us to break the long-term contracts and return to the lowest rates in the area.

“Why are we pulling away from AMP Ohio? Why are we trying to go alone? Why has our utility become a shell of what it once was?”

Schneider objected to Kimmich’s comment about the Wellington utility department.

“I’ll take exception to the comment about our utility department,” Schneider said. “I think it’s an exceptional group. We have good employees here. I think you know that, and I think that was a cheap shot.”

Schneider, council, and Pyles all agreed that it would be nearly impossible to get any kind of energy without signing a long-term contract, which are often more than 20 years in length.

In other action, council agreed to accept the resignation of auxiliary police officer Morgan Guyot effectively immediately.

Guyot was sworn in to the position in January. Pending a successful drug test, council also approved the hiring of George Daher as a part-time patrolman.

By Scott Mahoney

For the Enterprise