Oakey Ridge citizens voice concerns with commission at Tuesday meeting

Published 2:45 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Citizens of the Oakey Ridge community gathered at the Covington County Commission meeting Tuesday and addressed their concerns on a proposed solar project in the area.

Matthew McClellan, owner and operator of Walk Easy Farm, was among those residents in attendance.

“I would like to say my community does not support a project that would negatively impact our community, have no benefit of any kind to our county, and be a detriment to the real estate growth in our area,” McClellan said.

He added that those involved in the project have a misconception of the phrase “the woods” and are not familiar with the Oakey Ridge community.

“The area in question is not a small patch of trees as ‘the woods’ is defined but instead is a full ecosystem. That ecosystem supports rivers and streams that feed countless water systems carrying everything that flows through them. The concern for runoff and sedimentation when all of that earth is broken up and flattened is that our smaller waterways will fill with the runoff until they stop flowing,” he said.

McClellan also addressed concern regarding the solar panels being full of a toxic known as silica.

“Pure silica can be inhaled without an individual knowing and causes lung diseases and cancer, kidney disease, and heart disease. We know this because of people who breathe silica dust in third-world countries at factories who cut this product,” he said.

According to members of the community, the impact the solar project would have on their community is negative.

“There will be lower property values, environmental hazards and contaminants, and huge losses of biodiversity. The solar farm hinders growth for the already established properties in our community. We cannot always trust that a plan will be put in place if something goes wrong with this mega-construction project. We cannot trust the funds or aid will be there. We are small but must stay vigilant and protect our land and ourselves,” McClellan said.

Shannon Wiggins has called the Oakey Ridge community home for 47 and is also opposed to the solar farm.

“I want to appeal on behalf of everybody in Oakey Ridge. That’s a beautiful place, and I encourage each and every one of you to ride down there and look around. When you go, look at all the wildlife and trees. When you get through, ride down to Wing. It’s nothing against anybody here, but this project starts with you guys (the commission). On behalf of Oakey Ridge and Covington County, we appeal for you to help us and not let somebody destroy that,” Wiggins said.

Dist. 2 Commissioner Michael Smith represents the Oakey Ridge community and has spoken to other officials about proposed solar farms.

“I’ve also talked with State Representative (Matthew) Hammett, and he has heard from a representative of (U.S. Rep.) Barry Moore. The way it was described to me is that these companies get about a 50 percent reimbursement from the federal government to do these projects. They then come to counties for tax abatements, which is how they keep these projects going. I do know this company does not have a permit for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) yet,” Smith said.

Commission Chairman Greg White said the county has not received any information or details on the Oakey Ridge solar farm project.

“The only knowledge we have of what is going on is exactly what you are hearing on the street. The commission did consider and pass tax abatements in the Wing project, but other than that, there was no action made,” White said.

McClellan asked the commission to help defend their efforts to stop the proposed solar farm.

“We are for big business but not big business stamping all over the community without us being able to defend ourselves. Please do not let our community down by allowing something to come through this chamber now or in the future. We’re telling you up front and outright we do not want this. We need people to defend us and not grease the skids for big business without considering who will be impacted,” he said.

No action was taken by the commission.