Solar Farm Proposed on Heavily Wooded Airport Land

Publishing Date: May 11, 2023 3:30 am

By Mike Lednovich

The leaseholder of Amelia River Golf Course wants to clear-cut 36 acres of pristine riverfront habitat and trees to build a solar farm to generate electricity.

On Tuesday, the city commission will vote on an amendment to the golf course land lease to allow “that the Lessee may construct, install and maintain a solar farm and aeronautical and non-aeronautical hangars on the Leased Premises subject to the approval of the City Commission.”

Local businessman Tom Miller, a partner in Amelia River Holdings, LLC, assumed the lease of the golf course on city-owned airport property in 2019. His proposal also includes the construction of several hangars.

Location of the proposed solar farm – within the 130 acres leased to the Amelia River Golf Course.

The affected property is on 132 untouched and wild acres of the 310 total acres under lease by the Amelia River Golf Course. The land is located just west of the airport runways along the Amelia River and is not connected to the golf course. There are no paved roads to the parcel.

“Since purchasing the Amelia River Club in November 2019, we have been laser-focused on enhancing the experience of our golf course and property for the benefit of guests and the community. The benefits to the golf course would be tying into green energy, while also being able to benefit the island community with our own locally generated power, while reducing our carbon footprint by reducing older, less green energy alternatives,” Miller said via email.

Amelia River Holdings is partnering with Florida Public Utilities on the solar farm. Miller said FPU is paying the construction costs.

“FPU would develop, construct and own the solar array and use the 5 MW electrical production to feed back into the electrical grid on the island. This would provide a green energy source and provide additional on-island generation to enhance the resiliency of the electrical system for Amelia Island. Expected cost will be approximately $10.5 – $11.9 million,” Miller said.

The solar farm would generate revenues for FPU, Amelia River Holdings and the city.

Opponents of the plan cite clear-cutting 36 acres of trees on a barrier island will have a range of negative ecological and environmental consequences, including soil erosion, habitat loss, increased vulnerability to storms, changes to water quality, and impacts on human activities.

Lyn Pannone, president of the Amelia Tree Conservancy, said, “The primary focus of Amelia Tree Conservancy is to protect the island’s mature trees. The proposed solar farm on 30+ acres of undeveloped, tree-covered land is unacceptable. It is bad for the resiliency of the island, as well as stormwater management — especially in that location.”

A 2019 tree canopy survey conducted by the city placed the loss of tree canopy at 12% and was at 39% overall. Removal of 36 acres of trees would mean another 1% loss of canopy. The city’s comprehensive plan dictates that the city tree canopy should not fall below 37%.

The Land Development Code mandates that a tree survey be conducted on parcels before they are approved for construction.

“As part of our due diligence in advance of any project, the environmental impacts will be assessed. We take environmental stewardship seriously, and we’re committed to finding solutions that are both sustainable and reliable,” Miller said.

Thus far, the solar farm proposal, which is on airport property, has not been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Discussions have occurred with representatives from the Fernandina Municipal Airport regarding the project; airport property is routinely used around the nation to construct solar arrays. The FAA will be involved in the permitting process,” Miller explained.

The city has reached out to Passero & Associates for advice on FAA requirements for the solar farm.

Passero’s Andrew Holesko wrote to City Attorney Tammi Bach, “Here’s an initial list of items that we expect need research, response and approach to respond to the FAA, as the original grantor of the airport land to the City.”

Holesko said the FAA would likely require an extensive survey, as well as a new valuation of the property since the lease went into effect in 1994. That updated valuation could mean that Amelia River Holdings potentially could have to pay well over $1 million per year to lease the property.

Also in play is an in-depth study of wetlands, floodplain, endangered and threatened species and cultural resource/archaeological surveys.

In addition to the solar farm, Miller said several hangars would also be built. “Potential hangars are immediately along the taxiway (closest to the airport) and the net revenue is yet to be determined. Based on the current Lease, the city receives monthly rent on this land and in addition, the city would get an additional percentage of any revenue generated on future hangars or solar,” Miller said.

Miller is a local business owner operating the Water Wheel Cigar Club/store and the Putt-Putt Fun Center.

As to the problem of accessing the property, Miller said, “Access to the area will be approved and arranged by the Fernandina Beach Municipal Airport in cooperation with FAA guidelines, utilizing to-be-determined access points that comply with all airport regulations.”

Miller and FPU officials have been meeting with city commissioners and environmentalists about the project.

“We have received support for using solar arrays to produce green electricity and for protecting the environment. This project will provide for perpetual conservation areas; have a net positive impact on the environment; and when coupled with the use of pollinators, plants and other native grasses to stabilize the site, provide habitat for the existing species located on the property,” Miller said.

In 2019, another company, Signature Land, proposed turning the same acreage into one-third hangars and the rest into a Boy Scout facility. That was part of a larger proposal, which failed. Amelia River Holdings subsequently assumed the lease.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

63 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Tim Walker
Tim Walker (@guest_69383)
24 days ago

Worst idea I have ever heard.

Irene Antkowiak
Irene Antkowiak (@guest_69387)
24 days ago
Reply to  Tim Walker

I agree , what a terrible idea ,please vote against this ❗️

Diana Herman
Diana Herman (@guest_69384)
24 days ago

Haven’t we learned anything about how the trees benefit our fragile barrier island? People still do not get it! Removal of this wooded area will have deleterious environmental consequences.

Mike
Mike (@guest_69385)
24 days ago

Sounds like opening a can of worms, and a waste of time. Leave the trees alone

C. Heise
C. Heise (@guest_69388)
24 days ago

No!!! Leave the trees and habitat alone.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
24 days ago

Miller is greenwashing this foolish project; one cannot claim to be concerned about resiliency and the environment and propose to clearcut 36 acres of riverfront property, even if it is for a solar array. And I wonder what the Crane Island residents think of their beautiful marshland views being ruined.

w. wayne arrants
w. wayne arrants (@guest_69513)
21 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

I live in one of those homes and the idea is absurd. Leave the land alone. Crane Island has destroyed enough trees as it is.

Skeeter Askey
Skeeter Askey (@guest_69390)
24 days ago

Idiotic! Clear cutting trees to install solar isn’t “green” in my opinion. Install solar on top of existing buildings.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_69392)
24 days ago
Reply to  Skeeter Askey

There’s nothing green about solar or wind power. Tons of hazardous waste generated to produce them, hazardous waste to dispose of at the end of their life cycle. And most of the rare earth materials to produce them come from China, which is going all in on coal fired plants.

Natty
Natty (@guest_69412)
23 days ago
Reply to  William Smith

Guessing you applauded when Trump uttered that he would “Drill, drill, drill” to improve the economy.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_69418)
23 days ago
Reply to  Natty

Yep. Natural gas and even oil are FAR cleaner than coal. Are you in favor of Chinese burning dirty coal?

w. wayne arrants
w. wayne arrants (@guest_69514)
21 days ago
Reply to  Natty

Please educate yourself.

Jenny Nelson
Jenny Nelson (@guest_69391)
24 days ago

What a terrible idea to replace our natural irreplaceable canopy/forest with industrial infrastructure, solar or otherwise. We can never get it back.

Wende Burdick
Wende Burdick (@guest_69578)
19 days ago
Reply to  Jenny Nelson

This is 100% on point Jenny. Once you destroy maritime forest, you will not be able to restore it for a minimum of 100 years. And why aren’t people considering all the wildlife in this woodland? Our insect population depends upon trees and their understory, especially in the midst of the current insect collapse. The coyotes are in this forested area. If you remove it, be prepared to find them in our backyards with our pets.

anonymous
anonymous (@guest_69393)
24 days ago

Just an ancillary comment on the idea of going “green”, aside from the other obvious issues with this proposal pointed out by other comments here.

Solar panels and wind turbines are anything but “green”. Our corrupt MSM rarely, if ever, prints anything remotely truthful when it comes to detailing the environmental impact of wind and solar. For anyone willing to take the time to read the other side of the story can search on “The Energy Transition Delusion” – an article by Mark Mills, along with “Mines, Minerals, and Green Energy, A reality check”. The net is, neither wind or solar are in fact “renewable” as they both require an enormous amount of raw materials for their production, and both wind and solar are 100% dependent on fossil fuels from cradle to grave – for the mining and processing of the raw materials, transportation to/from manufacturing facility, the energy intensive manufacturing process, site preparation (there will be no electric vehicles used in clear cutting and preparing the 36 acres for the solar farm – not that electric vehicles are particularly green either if you bother to look into their lifecycle), life cycle maintenance (especially wind turbines), ultimate decommissioning and disposal. Also, wind turbines are supposed to last 20 years, but frequently fail in less than 15 because the bearings wear out. Solar does better at around 25 years – but neither comes close to the longevity of properly maintained thermal plants that actually reliably produce power 24x7x365 – something neither wind or solar can do. Neither can provide baseload power – that is power that is always available to keep the lights on and refrigerators running, or dispacthable power for those time demand exceeds baseload – like when we crank up the heat when it is cold or the AC when it is hot – we can’t command the sun to shine or the wind to blow whenever we need it.

Wind and solar are complete boondoggles wasting both time and money that could be better spend dealing with real problems.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
24 days ago
Reply to  anonymous

Who are you, anonymous? What is your name? Also, what do you suggest instead of using fissil fuels, solar, and wind to generate energy?

Wayne's Bit
Wayne's Bit (@guest_69423)
23 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Nuclear Power

Troy Walker
Troy Walker (@guest_69435)
23 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Triggered?

Concerned citizen
Concerned citizen (@guest_69441)
23 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Drill baby drill

anonymous
anonymous (@guest_69450)
23 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

First, there is no need to replace fossil fuels, but if you must, go nuclear, and we should be going nuclear regardless as it would save fossil fuels for producing the over 6000 products we use in our everyday lives. Everything you eat, drink, wear, walk/drive on is 100% dependent on fossil fuels.

The entire narrative about globalclimatewarmngchange is simply ridiculous. Co2 is plant food, is essential to life, and has virtually no impact on climate despite all the histrionics claiming that it alone can control the climate, which is basically what the entire argument comes down to – if we control co2, we can control the climate and stop severe weather events from occurring as if extreme events never occurred before we started burning fossil fuels. The abusrdity is breathtaking.

Devil’s Advocate
Devil’s Advocate (@guest_69468)
22 days ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

What do you care what his name is? Everybody that reads these articles knows you’re a bleeding heart liberal and you think you have to put your 2 cents in on every article written. I’ve got news for you, nobody cares what you have to say, especially when it comes to something that demands common sense. That seems to escape you leftists. When you have something positive and constructive to say, maybe then we’ll listen. Otherwise, read, sit back and shut up.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_69531)
20 days ago

Got a real name? Mark does.

Theresa T Hartz
Theresa T Hartz (@guest_69405)
24 days ago
Reply to  anonymous

If you have strong opinions and you are supposedly quoting all sorts of data, then have the courage to put your name on it.

Richard Cain
Richard Cain (@guest_69410)
23 days ago

Cute. I’ve complained about “anonymous” comments on numerous articles … nobody responds because they like what their anonymous friends write. But the moment an anonymous writer posts something they don’t like … they scream and insist that the writer reveal their name … presumably so they can post their vile hatred and attacks on the person directly.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_69419)
23 days ago
Reply to  Richard Cain

And likely doxx them as well

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_69532)
20 days ago
Reply to  Richard Cain

Sure reflects on credibility of comment. Like wearing a mask.

anonymous
anonymous (@guest_69449)
23 days ago

Maybe try reading the information I posted to be more informed.

Carol Pitts
Carol Pitts (@guest_69395)
24 days ago

Please vote against this !!!!! The trees can never be replaced

Marlene Chapman
Marlene Chapman(@crew2120)
24 days ago

So far this week I have seen two absolutely insane proposals that involve the removal of trees! The first is the solar farm by the airport. Has anyone looked at the detriment and how many trees will have to be removed/ Probably not and that is pathetic! The second is disc golf at Simmons Road Park. This park was constructed as a passive park. Do those who propose this know what that means? Simmons Park is a quite refuge for people with their leashed pets, joggers, and wildlife!! To even think about putting up cages with chains or whatever and throwing Frisbees around is a good idea, please give it more thought, or some thought at all! This insanity has to stop now! While I am all for the trimming of trees and vegetation if they are a hinderance to people or their homes, to just go willy nilly and remove them for the purposes proposed in just plain wrong. WAKE UP Fernandina!!

A2xGator
Active Member
A2xGator(@a2xgator)
24 days ago

No. A thousand times no.

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel (@guest_69399)
24 days ago

Don’t do this…please…

Taylor
Taylor (@guest_69400)
24 days ago

Clear cut to go green. makes sense. Solar panels leach heavy metals.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
24 days ago

36 acres of the 130 is about 28%. That’s a lot of carbon storage, wildlife corridor, ecosystem replenishment and maintenance, cooling, etc., etc., that would be lost. I haven’t seen which of the 36 acres would be cut, but they could cut that closer to the airport and leave forest by the marshland intact. Not that that justifies the project, I just wanna get the facts straight.

Cheryl Witt
Cheryl Witt (@guest_69403)
24 days ago

This is a terrible, awful idea. This can’t be the best use for this property. Exchanging trees for a glass and metal farm? And power towers and transmitters marching across the marsh? Paving paradise in my back yard again! No!

The Casual Observer
The Casual Observer (@guest_69404)
24 days ago

A wise man once told me – “always follow the money”. Does the leaseholder or the city (or both) stand to gain financially from this proposal? If the answer is “yes”, to what degree? If I would agree to put a cell tower on my property, I would get a lease fee. What specifically are the discrete details of this proposal? How does that stack up against the appraised value of the land and those trees as mitigation against storm damage?

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_69434)
23 days ago

Casual, the land is already under lease from the city by the Amelia River Golf Course. I guess the City could demand a share of the revenue that would be generated from the electrical output in exchange for allowing this usage of the property since it is not related to golfing operations. Under the present lease, the airport enterprise fund is receiving a flat amount each month.

CHRISTOPHER HADDEN
CHRISTOPHER HADDEN (@guest_69406)
23 days ago

I’m all for more solar, but clear cutting to place it on a fragile barrier island seems crazy to me. Plenty of open interior land all over Florida. No need to put it here.

Concerned citizen
Concerned citizen (@guest_69407)
23 days ago

This should be interesting.
Tree huggers, environmental alarmists, utility companies and lawyers. This will be stimulating.
We need the trees and natural habitat on the island. The water level has risen 1/8″ in the past 300 years. Investors just looking to make a buck by pretending to care about boy scouts and the environment.

Taylor
Taylor (@guest_69411)
23 days ago

Amen, this is about making money at the islands expense.

CAMERON MOSS
CAMERON MOSS (@guest_69424)
23 days ago

1/8 inch water level rise in 300 years seems like a typo…..

Chuck Colcord
Chuck Colcord (@guest_69408)
23 days ago

This should have been presented to the Airport Advisory Commission (AAC) prior to going to the City Commission. There are many questions.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_69420)
23 days ago
Reply to  Chuck Colcord

True. The FAA likely has opinions as well since anything in proximity to an airport that may reflect into a pilot’s eyes causing temporary blindness certainly would arouse their interest.

anonymous
anonymous (@guest_69409)
23 days ago

You’d be better off converting the airport into a wind farm than cutting more trees. FB already has several construction sites that have already removed trees. If the massive condos built on the south of the island get passed to courts, this solar farm… then FB will be dipping far below the canopy amount that was only a hope to protect. STOP THE CUTTING

Taylor
Taylor (@guest_69416)
23 days ago
Reply to  anonymous

Wind power , Very noisy, dirty and a death sentence for birds.

William Smith
William Smith (@guest_69433)
23 days ago
Reply to  Taylor

And a hazard to aviation that close to the airport.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_69436)
23 days ago
Reply to  anonymous

The proposed condos at the south end of the island are not within the city limits.

Kelly
Kelly (@guest_69413)
23 days ago

I have a better idea. Turn the golf course into a short course (like Little Sandy at AIP) and use the excess land – which is already mostly clear – for your solar panels. Removing pristine waterfront forest is an awful idea, even if wrapped in your ridiculous “clean energy” marketing.

DUFFY GOODMAN
Member
DUFFY GOODMAN(@fincamulahotmail-com)
23 days ago

Looking at the aerial photo of the airport there seems to be many acres of clear land within the runway complex. Is there some regulation prohibiting the use of this unused part of the airport complex for solar panels? Communications issues? Sorry, but had to ask the stupid question.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_69437)
23 days ago
Reply to  DUFFY GOODMAN

That is the purpose of the FAA review. In looking at airports where major solar farms have been installed, the most cites location is the Denver CO airport, but the solar arrays are far removed from the runways/taxiways. The Austin airport has their solar arrays above their parking garages. The FAA does have a concern about glare/glint from the solar panels impacting aircraft landing.

Dot Simmons
Dot Simmons (@guest_69422)
23 days ago

If we keep removing trees from this beautiful island, it will eventually wash away and then there will be no need for any electricity. I’m all for going “green” but a solar farm replacing “green” trees which prevent soil erosion and produce the very oxygen we breathe to live, that doesn’t sound “green” to me, that sounds like “greed”.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_69425)
23 days ago

I would assume that when the land is converted from agricultural use to commercial use, (1) the value of the land will increase markedly, and (2) the tax collector will take a much higher share of property taxes than is presently exacted. (Thus increasing operating costs of the project.)

Also – access to the area (roads and power lines) is “yet to be determined”. They want you to approve the project now. Later they’ll tell you where the off-site roads, power lines and possible substation equipment “must” be located.

Cutting down trees to “provide a perpetual conservation area”? What kind of double-talk is this?

Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_69438)
23 days ago
Reply to  John Goshco

John, this is city property that is part of the airport that is leased so there is no property tax collected. I believe the current lease for the property only allows for golfing related operations so the City would have to agree to a modification of the lease (and could presumably increase the rental charged).

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_69444)
23 days ago
Reply to  Dave Lott

WOW – crazy.
Thanks for he info Dave.

Jim W.
Jim W. (@guest_69469)
22 days ago
Reply to  John Goshco

Dave/John,

That is not accurate. While the airport does have some tax exemptions for Airport use, once leased the lessee is responsible for paying property taxes on the development on leased propert. Pull up the appraiser’s website and you can access the current Trim Notice for the golf course on airport property.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_69475)
22 days ago
Reply to  Jim W.

That was my original thinking.
Similar to the operator at the Port of FB.

Matt
Matt (@guest_69426)
23 days ago

I bet one of the conservation groups can find a protected species on that land. Oh please do!!

Margo Story
Margo Story (@guest_69429)
23 days ago

OMG nooooooo……..

Chris
Chris (@guest_69443)
23 days ago

It’s like these self-centered and destructive opportunists are obsessively asking themselves, “Now… what else can I do to disrupt paradise and make it even more undesirable?”

Alan
Member
Alan(@aknauf56)
23 days ago

What happened – did the City Commission turn this down?

KJNemaric
KJNemaric (@guest_69460)
22 days ago
Reply to  Alan

There hasn’t been a city commission meeting yet; the story was just published yesterday. It’s on the agenda for this coming Tuesday’s meeting (May 16). Item 7.5.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_69515)
21 days ago

Too late to do anything about it now, but while I was looking at aerial photos of the airport on Google Maps I noticed that about 1/4 acre of forest (plus a dozen palm trees) on the north end of the airport quietly disappeared during construction of the new fire house.
Looks like they were mostly coniferous species of lesser “significance” in the pecking order of trees worth saving.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_69528)
21 days ago

The FAA calls it.

Jeff Bannister
Jeff Bannister (@guest_69625)
18 days ago

Put it on the golf course…

63
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x