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Gadsden County delays signing solar farms agreement

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By Alice Du Pont

 For the first time since National Solar Power decided to locate in Gadsden County representatives of the company gave the Board of County Commissioners an overview of what they will bring to the county.
Eric Williams, vice president of NSP, said the company is seeking to buy 4,000 acres in the county for 20 separate farms throughout the county. The farms, he said, could take as much as 8 years to build and become operational.There would be a maximum of 120 jobs during construction and 5 to 6 full time people to operate each farm.
    "We will set up offices here and join the chamber of commerce as well as a training facility at Tallahassee Community College. At least one of our major sites will have a training program," Williams said."
    John Fisher of Hensel Phelphs Construction said the company he represents will be in charge of the construction phase.
    Each commissioner, at the end of the presentation, thanked the companies for choosing the county and promised to expedite their move to the county.
`    But before any permits could be pulled and plans made, the BoCC, Hensel Phelps and NSP Partners LLC needed a signed agreement. While members of the BoCC, the county attorney and county administrator had copies of the agreement, drawn up by NSP attorneys, the agreement was distributed without proper protocol.
    "We did get this but not the traditional way through the administrator and to us," said Chairman Sherrie Taylor.
    She did not explain how the agreement was distributed or by whom. She did explain, however, that the county attorney will look over the agreement with an eye toward the concerns of commissioners. Before any agreement is signed, there would be a public noticed meeting for the community to ask questions of NSP.
    "Before we enter into any agreement there will be a public hearing," Taylor said.
    Commissioner Doug Croley questioned the agreement as penned by NSP attorneys.
    "Anytime someone gives me an agreement (I feel) it's about what you want not what you need. Some of this wording (in the agreement) is like a blank check," Croley said.
    "I don't want to be exonerated of any requirements, We're asking you to work with us," said James Scrivener, Chief Executive Officer of NSP.
    Croley said that to the credit of NSP company representatives had been "forthright" is answering all of his questions in the past.
    But Commissioner Gene Morgan appeared to be ready to sign the agreement.    "We need to prioritize. There should be no other project that holds a higher priority," Morgan said.
    Others wanted to make sure the county wasn't making a mistake in signing an agreement before it was thoroughly studied by the county's attorney Deborah Minnis.
    Minnis said the county could not give a tax abatement without a referendum nor could it grant a fee reduction as requested by NSP in the agreement,
    "Don't get in too big of a hurry, take your time," offered Commissioner Eugene Lamb.