Fort Mill neighbors prepare to fight solar plant zoning issue with York County

FORT MILL, S.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — Some Fort Mill neighbors hoped their battle against Silfab Solar Company would be over by now. But they still feel like county and state officials are not hearing their concerns about possible environmental impacts from the manufacturing facility.

Neighbors now say they may have to take their fight to court.

“We’re fighting a big organization that shouldn’t be here to pollute our air or water and anything else that comes along,” said resident Lynn Abromatis.

A small group of neighbors is still pushing to move the solar panel company away from residential areas and two new schools being built in Fort Mill. Silfab is slated to move into the existing industrial complex on Logistics Lane off U.S. 21, which the company says would bring 800 new jobs.

But neighbors have made their voice heard on the plan since last August. Their main concern is possible health issues from being so close to the facility from hazardous chemicals like silane, hydrofluoric acid, and toluene.

“I believe that there’s a big mistake being made in terms of bringing this company back into the community, especially so close to all of the schools,” Joe Casper told Queen City News. “There are so many deadly chemicals that are going to be used to allow this company to function, as a solar panel manufacturer. They just need to be somewhere else; they don’t need to be among children.”

On March 1, officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control approved a Synthetic Minor Construction Permit. Authorities “determined that Silfab Solar can comply with all applicable state and federal air quality standards.”

They say “These standards and regulations exist for the purpose of protecting air quality, which in turn protects people’s health and the environment. We continue to oversee this facility to ensure it operates in compliance with the conditions of its air permit, as we do for all DHEC-permitted businesses in the state.”

Residents also fear their drinking water will eventually be affected, saying “The City of Rock Hill water treatment plant stated they cannot process ALL of the toxins in the water. Some of the toxic waste will have to be processed and kept on site until it can be hauled away to a toxic dump site.”

Fort Mill residents at the Carolina Orchard retirement facility Thursday, April 18.

Public Information Officer Katie Quinn responded to Queen City News inquiry about this statement:

There are certain materials we’re unable to take at the City’s wastewater treatment plant. In some cases, companies are required to do some pre-treatment on site and/or contract with a hazardous waste disposal company for removal. There would be a public comment period for the City issuing an industrial-user permit that regulates the wastewater discharge from companies coming to our plant. DHEC regulates hazardous waste disposal and sites where it’s taken, so I can’t speak to where those sites are located.”

Regardless, neighbors don’t want to deal with the possible hassle in the coming years. An elementary and middle school are planned for Gold Hill Road just south of the facility.

“My real emergency to get into this is those kids,” said Alison Dillworth, one of the main organizers. “That’s the future of our country, and we want to see them happy and healthy. And then the senior living center just opened there, these are people that are having problems breathing and they need fresh air. And that’s what we all need, is fresh air. And with this company coming in, we’re not guaranteed that by DHEC or any other company,”

“They clearly shouldn’t be in this residential area,” Abromatis said. “We’re not zoned for industrial, only light industrial. That’s where the argument comes in.”

Their plan is to convince the county zoning board to move the Silfab site since it doesn’t fit the zoning code.

“That’s the risk we’re taking. But we all get to stand up against a rezoning, and the council has to vote on the rezoning,” neighborhood activist Andy Lytle told the group.

He emphasized that the group is not against green energy, they just want it in a safer location.

“Hopefully the county can find a better place for Silfab and still keep them in the county because we’re not against them, you know, we would like …,” Lytle said, noting that if York County can’t find another location, then “the plan then would go to civil court.”

That civil suit would be against County. The county has not yet discussed anything about the company during board meetings this year.

“I hope they find it in themselves to prohibit this company from coming into this area. That’s something I think they should consider strongly,” Casper said.

More about DHEC’s decision

DHEC issued Silfab Solar its requested Synthetic Minor Construction Permit after the agency determined that the company could comply with all applicable state and federal air quality standards.

DHEC performed a detailed review of the air permit application submitted by Silfab for operations related to a solar panel manufacturing plant in Fort Mill, and agency staff also reviewed and considered all of the public comments the agency received about this air permit during the public comment period.

Department officials sent Queen City News additional comments:

  • DHEC received more than 400 individual comments related to Silfab’s draft air permit for the project – which we welcome and encourage as part of our standard permitting process – including several comments regarding the location of the project and the county’s zoning code. While DHEC reviews and considers all public comments received, it’s important to understand that DHEC’s air permitting program doesn’t have the authority to dictate where this proposed project may or may not be located, and county zoning ordinances are outside of DHEC’s purview. DHEC held a public meeting and hearing for the community on Oct. 30, 2023.
  • Some of the air permit conditions were changed to be more stringent as a result of the public comments we received.
  • On March 1, when we issued the permit, a copy of the permit, a response to public comments, and a letter to citizens were emailed to everyone who signed up to receive updates about this permit application.
  • DHEC’s air permit application review process is detailed and comprehensive and includes performing a technical review of the facility’s ability to meet all applicable state and federal air quality standards and regulations. These standards and regulations exist for the purpose of protecting air quality, which in turn protects people’s health and the environment. DHEC holds all permitted facilities in the state accountable for meeting the details of their issued permits.

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