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Toledo council gives solar project the go-ahead

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After delaying a vote on a proposed solar array over questions about a floodplain, Toledo City Council in a 11-0 vote approved a special-use permit for the project at a special meeting Tuesday.

Council President Matt Cherry said he postponed an Aug. 14 vote on the project because of concerns about building along the Ottawa River Floodplain, but on Tuesday he said he had since found answers to his questions.

“My answers were more from private-sector people that I know and I just wanted to get their opinion of it,” Mr. Cherry said. “Their opinion satisfied me, so that’s why we’re moving forward today.”

The Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority requested the special-use permit so that solar panels could be installed on its property at the industrial park at 1000 Jeep Pkwy.

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.

“If those who are investing in the project and who are contributing millions of dollars worth of product believe that it is a location for it, then I’m supportive,” Councilman Peter Ujvagi said. “I think the concept of the dollars being redirected into the community is a very good one that could be a real model.”

Council voted unanimously in July to speed up the permitting process after Toledo Community Foundation President Keith Burwell told officials expediting the timeline was critical to securing about $2 million in donated solar panel inverters from Solectria. First Solar Inc. also plans to donate about $3 million in panels, Mr. Burwell said.

Several council members were surprised when Mr. Cherry delayed the vote because they had called a special zoning and planning committee meeting the day before to move the process along.

Councilman Larry Sykes, who was out of town on city business Tuesday and so was absent for the vote, had expressed concerns that a dispute over which trade union is entitled to work on the site influenced Mr. Cherry’s decision to pull the item from the Aug. 14 agenda.

Councilman Yvonne Harper, who represents District 4 where the project will be built, said Mr. Cherry had not informed her why he delayed the first vote nor had he shared what information he received that reassured him the site was safe to build on.

“The president of council has not shared any information,” she said.

Mr. Cherry said his decision had nothing to do with the labor dispute, and he added that pushing the vote back a week will not have a negative impact on the project’s tight timeline. Project leaders said the panels must be installed before the snow flies.

“We’re moving forward now, and I hope it’s a great project for the community,” Mr. Cherry said.

The Toledo Plan Commission’s staff recommended in July that council approve the project’s special-use permit, subject to 32 conditions. One condition is that the state floodplain administrator’s office signs off on the project before it moves forward.

That has not yet happened, city officials said.

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

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