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Council president: Labor dispute played no role in solar project delay

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    Workers install solar panels on a farm in St. Paul, North Carolina. Toledo City Council President Matt Cherry says a vote on a proposed solar array at Overland Industrial Park was delayed due to concerns about the Ottawa River Floodplain.

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    Council President Matt Cherry.

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Toledo City Council President Matt Cherry said he postponed a vote on a proposed solar array because of concerns about the Ottawa River Floodplain, not because of questions swirling in the labor community about which trade unions are entitled to the installation work.

Several councilmen on Wednesday questioned why Mr. Cherry pulled a special-use permit request to allow the solar field to be built at Overland Industrial Park from Tuesday’s council agenda. Council had voted 11-0 on July 17 to expedite the permitting process for the project and held a special zoning and planning meeting Monday to ensure the matter would be ready for a vote Tuesday.

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Council President Matt Cherry.

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Dana Inc.’s Toledo Driveline plant plans to buy energy from the solar field, and all revenue would then go to the Toledo Community Foundation to be distributed as grants in the neighboring communities.

“We should have voted on it, and because we didn’t there should have been a full explanation to council as to why we weren’t going to vote on it that night,” Councilman Rob Ludeman said.

Mr. Cherry said he has questions about whether it is safe to construct a solar array in an area prone to flooding. Lucas County’s floodplain map shows the proposed site, located at 1000 Jeep Pkwy. in an area designated as having a 1 percent annual chance of hazardous flooding and adjacent to a regulatory floodway.

“I would hate for us to approve something for a community organization to benefit and then have it all washed away with some kind of massive flood,” he said. “I just want to be safe on this one.”

But Mr. Ludeman said he doesn’t consider the floodplain question a city council issue. He said the council’s task is to vote on whether it believes a special-use permit should be granted, and it will then be up to the project managers to figure out the logistics.

“Those are details that would have to be worked out by the folks who are doing the project,” Mr. Ludeman said. “This is a zoning issue.”

Councilman Larry Sykes expressed skepticism at Mr. Cherry’s reason for dropping the solar array’s permit request from Tuesday’s agenda. He said there is a dispute among trade unions vying for work on the project, and he believes that conflict factored in to Mr. Cherry’s decision to delay a vote. 

“Shaun Enright was threatening to have council hold it up. I didn’t know Shaun Enright had that kind of sway over council,” Mr. Sykes said.

Mr. Enright, executive secretary and business manager of the Northwest Ohio Building and Construction Trades Council, said he did not contact elected officials to lobby for a delay, and he wishes to see the project move forward. The council represents 18 different unions with about 15,000 members.

“I can promise you the building trades are fully supportive of this project,” Mr. Enright said. “We’ll make sure it gets done.”

Kevin Smith, CEO and legal counsel for the Associated General Contractors of Northwest Ohio, said IBEW Local 8 and the regional carpenters union are negotiating who will work on the solar project. The back-and-forth between unions has nothing to do with city council, and he is unsure why it didn’t vote Tuesday on the proposed solar array, he said.

“Everybody has their own trade autonomy, the work they claim to do, and some of it overlaps. One union says they want their guys to do it, and another union says they want their guys to do it,” Mr. Smith said. “We get together and work it out.”

Mr. Cherry, a business agent for Sheet Metal Workers Local 33, said union issues were “definitely not” the reason he held up the vote.

“The labor dispute is the labor dispute. That’s between them,” he said.

He said he hopes to have his questions about the floodplain answered soon so that the solar project can proceed. He said he is aware millions of dollars in donated equipment for the array hinge on the panels being installed before the snow flies.

Council is set to hold a special meeting Monday ahead of its regularly scheduled agenda review meeting at 2 p.m. to decide whether to place a regional water commission question on the November ballot. Mr. Ludeman said he hopes council can also use the special meeting to vote on the solar array’s special-use permit.

Staff writer Ryan Dunn contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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