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COMMENTARY: Will Culpeper sacrifice a unique place to government-subsidized industry?

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In response to farmer Dwayne Forrest’s Aug. 13 letter in the Culpeper Star-Exponent, “Landowners have the right to use their property as they wish,” I would like to offer a neighbor’s perspective.

My siblings and I own Greenville farm, inherited in 2016 after our parents, Bill and Adrianne, died three months apart. Our parents were extremely hard-working people and were beloved in the community. They had the highest respect for their neighbors, including Dwayne Forrest, with whom they successfully cooperated for decades.

Over the years, they pioneered farming techniques to minimize the effects of soil erosion. They entered their agriculturally-zoned property into a conservation easement and poured their resources into the restoration of a then- decrepit home.

Dwayne Forrest described us as “landlords, whose primary residences are in Charlottesville and New York.” Speaking for myself, I live and work in Charlottesville so that one day I may return to Greenville full time. I know my siblings feel the same way.

Mr. Forrest also pointed out that our land is in conservation easement and ineligible for solar. We, in fact, own another parcel of about 100 acres eligible for solar. We turned down all advances from out-of-state developers because we believe industrial-scale solar is wrong for our area.

Mr. Forrest states that we live in a free country where landowners can use their property as they wish. While I certainly agree that we are blessed to be free, we live subject to laws, such as zoning regulations, that keep things orderly within our communities.

Presently, no one in our area has the right to put in an industrial-scale solar plant. The land is zoned agricultural. Only with a government-granted variance to current zoning can solar development begin.

Our family knows farming is a tough but rewarding life, and we all do what we must to make it work. We are in complete sympathy with Mr. Forrest for, like him, our land is our primary asset, and we are determined to preserve it.

We have no quarrel with a farmer diversifying his income by putting in a scale-appropriate solar array on his land. However, Cricket Solar LLC’s proposal is not scale-appropriate but rather an industrial solar-power facility. This facility would be strung out across disconnected parcels totaling 1,500 acres.

The proposed project will blight the environment across an agriculturally zoned and historically significant section of Culpeper County.

While solar energy is a benefit to the environment, one must not ignore the larger picture of this situation.

If the Cricket Solar facility is built in its proposed location, mass grading and soil erosion will negatively impact our local area, the Rapidan River and Chesapeake Bay watershed. This is a sobering example that a development of this scale would reach far beyond Mr. Forrest’s property lines.

Our entire community and beyond would be living with the impact of industrial solar for decades to come. When a solar-energy facility of this size is constructed in a rural, agricultural setting, we must all ask if we are willing to sacrifice a pristine and unique environment to a government-subsidized industrial complex.

Cricket Solar is asking Culpeper’s elected officials for a special-use permit to use agriculturally zoned land for its industrial purposes. So it falls to our elected officials to determine what is best for the local community and the county as a whole.

Although the Planning Commission has looked at the solar issue for some time, environmental issues are now being brought forward which will require diligent study before a well-considered determination can be made.

To put Cricket’s utility-scale solar variance to a Planning Commission vote on Sept. 11 would be premature and a disservice to our community. The prudent course is to spend a while longer considering what is actually best for Raccoon Ford, Culpeper and our fragile environment.

I am sure Cricket Solar would like to see the Board of Supervisors grant the special-use permit and then continue to fine-tune environmental issues. Such a process would be insufficient to safeguard our community’s interests.

As we have seen with the Stevensburg solar project, a special-use permit is an irrevocable green light for development. The time for reflection is now, not later.

My siblings and I support Citizens for Responsible Solar, a group formed by many of the hard-working members from our locality in calling for a moratorium on solar development in Culpeper until the necessary environmental-impact studies can be completed.

We have one opportunity to get this right, or we will be living with the consequences for decades.

William Foshay and his siblings own Greenville, a historic farm in southern Culpeper County in the area where Cricket Solar LLC seeks to build a solar-power facility.

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