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Georgetown County rezones 2,000-acre parcel for solar farm, bans signs at council meetings

Lambertown (copy)

Opponents of a proposed solar farm in the Lambertown community protest outside Georgetown County Courthouse on Oct. 11, 2022. Mike Woodel/Staff

GEORGETOWN — The Georgetown County Council voted to allow a solar farm more than 3 square miles in size to be built in the rural Lambertown community.

As planned by Nashville-based developer Silicon Ranch, the solar farm would feature roughly 600,000 solar modules off Saints Delight Road supporting two 100-megawatt systems and a substation connecting to the Santee Cooper power grid.

Lambertown residents stood before the council at meetings stretching over several months to show their opposition to the project, citing effects on local drainage, health and property values. A smaller crowd met the council on Jan. 24, but those who did show expressed continuing disappointment and exhaustion over the council's decisions.

"We do not want Silicon Ranch in our community," resident Sandra Barnhill said. "Silicon Ranch is not welcomed."

Resident Beverly Thompson noted the lack of Lambertown residents who expressed enthusiasm for the project.

"We, the people, have spoken yet again," Thompson said. "And you, council, you're our voice. We want you to vote 'no.'"

The two ordinances passed each by 5-2 votes to edit the county's future land-use map and rezone the parcel, currently zoned forest agriculture, to include a district for the solar farm. Councilmen Everett Carolina, whose district includes Lambertown about 10 miles south of Andrews, and Raymond Newton voted against passage.

Carolina said he was concerned about consequences if the solar farm was damaged in a natural disaster.

"I'm listening, as (is) Raymond, to the concerns of the community," Carolina said.

The signs Lambertown residents often brought with them into the council chambers also were noticeably absent at the Jan. 24. In the same meeting, the council gave final approval to an ordinance forbidding signs at county meetings, except when used as a presentation aide.

The ordinance also outlines multiple causes for people speaking publicly at county meetings to be removed, including personal attacks, directing remarks to the audience, exchanging words with another public speaker and leaving the podium to approach the dais or a staff member.

Under the ordinance, the chairperson of the board, council or commission holding the meeting would be allowed to ban an individual removed from attending meetings for up to one year. The council also moved to amend the ordinance so that it will take effect March 1.

Councilman Bob Anderson, who voted in favor on second reading in December, was the only council member of seven to vote against the ordinance on Jan. 24. Carolina abstained from the vote to seek further information.

"I don't have a problem with this ordinance being written and approved, but I think based on the areas that we have issues, we have gone a bridge too far with the details," Anderson said. He also noted that because of the ordinance's late publication in December, he did not get a chance to read it before the second-reading vote. 

Chief Legal Counsel and Executive Director Cynthia Ranck Person of Keep It Green Advocacy was among multiple community members who spoke against the ordinance, claiming it could infringe on constitutional rights.

Person said she could not speak to whether her organization will bring a lawsuit forward regarding the ordinance. However, she said that other organizations — including counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union — are "very interested."

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Mike Woodel reports on Georgetown County for The Post and Courier. He graduated from the University of South Carolina in 2018 and previously worked for newspapers in Montana and South Dakota.

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