A handful of Dike residents Monday expressed concerns regarding the planned Dike, TX solar farm to Hopkins County Commissioners during their regular meeting Monday morning, Dec. 21.
Cynthia Martin of Dike said residents of the area hadn’t been properly notified in advance of the planned solar farm. She said they learned of it after hearing that county officials had recently granted the company an extension of time to construct the solar facility, pushing back other dates on the agreement by another year for Hopkins Energy LLC.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Wade Bartley pointed out a public meeting was held at Sulphur Bluff school last year regarding the matter. The Dike resident said they were told notice for the meeting was posted in the newspaper. The Dike residents said they don’t read the paper and, thus, didn’t know about it.
Martin’s son and Dike resident Robert Joslin both claimed they weren’t aware of the meeting held in 2019 in Sulphur Bluff when the school district was asked to agree for an application to be sent to the comptroller regarding the project, to see if it qualified for a tax incentive, nor prior to its approval by local axing entities.
Martin presented several sheets with approximately 150 names, signatures and addresses from area residents she and Robert Joslin said were collected in one day, attesting that the residents were never notified of the planned project.
“No one was notified. No one knew it was coming until I raised the flag. Now, how do you look at your citizens of Dike and tell them that’s OK?” Martin asked. “These people didn’t know. They had no way to come up here and protest because they didn’t know at any point in time.”
The project was first brought to school district officials in the summer of 2019, to request permission for an application to be completed and sent to the Texas Comptroller to see if Hopkins Energy LLC qualified for a Chapter 313 agreement before Sulphur Springs and Sulphur Bluff school districts were asked to consider a tax incentive request. It was present to the schools in December 2019 and January of 2020 for approval, and an extension for the starting the project was granted recently.
Martin expressed concern regarding two sentences she said were from project developer an Alpine Sun use agreement regarding the planned farm: rented land typically has “no or few trees, level to moderate sloping without flood-prone land or ponds and encumbered by mineral surface restrictions. This excludes land that is highly wooded; heavily sloping; has creeks, ponds wetland or flood planes.”
“This is exactly where they should not be putting a solar company, because that describes Dike, Texas — everything they claim is not appropriate for a solar company,” Martin told Hopkins County Commissioners Court.
She asked why the company was planning to build a solar farm on an environmental landscape that they officially claim is excluded from acres they will build on. She said Dike is not environmentally appropriate for a solar company.
Martin said she’d talked to the Army Corps of Engineer about the area being located in a flood zone. The area already floods, she said, and expressed concern that cutting down the many post-oak trees on the properties to clear the way for solar panels to be installed would caused the already flood prone area to wash away. She said cutting down post oaks over such a wide area also goes against climate change. The “rare post oak forest,” she said, has already been 70 percent destroyed.
The revised reinvestment zone map approved by the court recently, Martin said, would include her land and that of her brother-in-law. That is not accurate, she said.
“I would like to see that copy of that flood zone map that you have. A lot of this stuff, it’s the first time I’m hearing about it. I did attend the meeting they had at Sulphur Bluff school. There were at least two that I can think of, maybe three, of the neighbors of the adjoined properties. How did they find out about it? I don’t know how it was presented to notify anyone ahead of time. It was all done without us knowing about it before hand. I would like a little bit more of that information you have. I’d like to look at it,” Bartley told Martin.
Martin also expressed concern that an environmental impact assessment study should have been done in that area before the project was ever considered by the county, school and hospital districts for tax incentives.
“This is one of the largest solar complexes in the state of Texas. The fact that no environmental inspection was every done is a travesty to the community members of Dike. You’ve got people who will live across the fence line from panels, thousands of panels, the heat coming off of them, the glare, the noise of the substation that are going to go all across the KP line. The only reason this thing is being built in Dike is the KP line and the tax break 313,” said a man identified during the meeting only as Cynthia Martin’s son.
Dike resident Cindy Joslin said she has an daughter who has Downs syndrome and noise sensitivity. Thus, the amount of noise they have been told will be made, she said, is a big concern for her family.
“That scares me to death, knowing these are going to be in my front yard and they follow the sun, so at some point during the day they are going to be blinding us. We can’t be outside whatsoever, so I have a big problem with this coming in in my front yard. I think something needs to be done about it,” Cindy Joslin added.
Martin expressed concern that Dike residents who do not have agriculture property exemptions would have to pay commercial taxes if the project moves forward the most recent agreements outline. She said they are truck drivers, factory workers, barbers and restaurant workers who can’t afford commercial taxes and didn’t understand why they would be placed in a reinvestment zone established for the solar farm.
Martin too indicated worry that the solar panels will damage the land and water with toxic substances when broken, that the electric rates will rise, that nearby property owners if they choose will not be able to sell the land because it is near a solar farm, that it’s to be located in the middle of Dike community.
“You sold us out,” Martin told the Commissioners Court.
“I’ve lived out there for over 50 years, judge, and it’s going to ruin my property,” Robert Joslin said. “This, the panels’, going to back right up to my place.”
Joslin too was anxious the solar farm might change his property value, which will impact taxes.
“Your taxes, if you’re not contacted, should remain whatever they are now,” Hopkins County Judge Robert Newsom said. “They’ll go up on the people that contracted, yes. If you’re not contracted your taxes should not go up, only that of those leasing their ag exemption that they’ve had for years.”
Joslin express concern that it would interfere with the cattle his son is raising and would be directly across from where his son lives.
“I just don’t think that this is fair, what is happening out in our community right now,” Mr. Joslin said.
“Can we ask the County Commissioners why an environmental impact assessment was never done for this area?” Martin’s son asked.
Newsom said he understood “where you’re coming from.” The company made the lease agreements before ever approaching county and school governing boards; the deals were struck with the land owners before he was ever aware of it, Newsom said.
“Taxing aside, the flooding, the trees, surely there’s some way — you can’t just let these companies come in and just take over. Do we not have some rights, somewhere? Don’t you all have some say in what goes on, just allowing some foreign solar company to come in and hit up some big land owners because KP power line runs through there? Fine, cut down our forest, flood out the area, throw it in the middle of the community as if children, fish, ponds doesn’t matter. Our roads out there are already horrible. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like when trucks go through there. I think I’ve made my point. I will keep coming back,” Martin told the court.
Shari Mohl, who lives across the road from a portion of the Solemio solar farm planned for construction in Arbala, said some residents have contacted Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regarding the planned farm in her area.
“They got on their maps and said absolutely no way should those things be put where they are putting them,” Mohl said.
The Arbala resident added that even if companies make deals with landowners to lease property on which to locate a solar farm, ultimately, the governing bodies such as the Commissioners Court, make decisions on whether the proposed project receive tax incentives.
“These companies have said, ‘We won’t go unless we get tax abatements.’ So really, whatever they do with the landowners, they can do. And, if they do come, even if that’s true and you can’t stop them from coming, they darn sure better be paying the taxes the rest of us are paying,” Mohl said. “So that’s where y’all come in. You have that power. You also have a responsibility to us as your citizens to let us have a chance on this, and that’s all we’ve been asking.”
Daniel Bobay, a resident of FM 1567 west, said a wise study session should have been done before the matter was even brought to the commissioners for approval. That would give the public an opportunity to hear all sides and issues raised and raise issues of their own in a public session, so everyone would understand the impact or lack thereof before the projects are put on property governed by the Commissioners Court, he noted.
Bobay suggested that if the county doesn’t already perhaps they should consider setting aside in an industrial complex where industrial complexes can be located during annual strategic planning.
“If you drive through places like McKinney. They used to be like this. They aren’t like this. It’s coming your way. I know you know it, but some kind of planning really needs to be put in place so that you don’t have industrial complexes springing up next to residential farms and family property that it’s going to impact,” Bobay said.
Bobay too expressed concern the environmental impact of people who are living on the property next to his in what he described as a “homeless camp,” specifically what they might be putting into the creek. He said he ended up in a “big circle with the last environmental county person” and wasn’t even able to leave a message to talk to someone about the matter. He thanked Precinct 1 Commissioner Mickey Barker for answering his email recently about the topic and suggested the county look into the matter.