Great Adventure can cut 18,000 trees for solar array

The swooping, churning rides at Great Adventure could soon be solar powered.

An Ocean County, N.J., judge this week dismissed a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to block Six Flags from clear-cutting part of an adjoining forest to install a solar array to power its theme park.

Superior Court Judge Marlene Lynch Ford said the positives of the planned 21.9-megawatt array in Jackson Township outweigh the negatives.

“The court finds that the use of solar energy is an inherently beneficial use,” she wrote.

Kristin Siebeneicher Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the park, said the company was pleased with the decision.  But she said there is a separate decision Six Flags is awaiting regarding permits before any construction can begin.

“Six Flags has been, and will remain, a good custodian of the environment,” she said.

However, the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, a grassroots environmental organization, was disappointed.

“We believe Six Flags’ plan is flawed given that there are plenty of alternatives they could take that do not harm the environment, sacrifice wildlife habitat, or add to storm-water runoff,” said Jeff Tittel, the chapter’s director.

At issue is a plan by Six Flags from 2015 for a large solar farm off a wooded tract east of the safari park.  An estimated 18,000 trees would have to be cut down to make space for what would become New Jersey’s largest solar facility. The facility would be owned and operated by KDC Solar LLC of Bedminster, N.J.

The panels would be installed on racks three feet above the ground.  A mix of grasses would be planted below.

The solar farm would provide virtually all of the park’s needs.  On days when solar can’t meet demand, such as when it’s cloudy for extended periods, Great Adventure would tap the electrical grid.

But the plan drew the wrath of a coalition of environmental groups who sued Jackson Township, Six Flags Great Adventure, and KDC.

The groups, led by Clean Water Action, would normally find themselves cheering a large solar array.  Instead, Save Barnegat Bay, Crosswicks – Doctors Creek Watershed Association and the Sierra Club say the destruction of so many trees could be avoided if the panels were placed elsewhere around the park.

The suit, among other issues, accuses Jackson Township’s council and planning board of failing to follow the proper procedures for studying and approving the project, and not following zoning restrictions in the municipal master plan.

But the court found that the township’s allowances were not unreasonable and were consistent with the master plan.

 

Six Flags owns 2,200 acres in Jackson.  About 66 acres of trees and brush would be cleared for solar, the company says, and  about 20,000 new trees would be planted as an offset. 

Company officials estimated the solar project will eliminate 215,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 15 years. They say that’s many times the benefit of the acreage to be cleared.

In addition, they plan a carport with solar panels over the employee parking lot.  Environmentalists were pushing for Six Flags to place the solar array over the main parking lot but company officials said the lot wasn’t suitable for a variety of reasons.