DANVILLE – Opponents of the estimated $3.5 million solar array Aqua Illinois wants to place on property near its water treatment plant off Fairchild Street went home after more than about two hours of discussion still not sure whether the special-use permit passed or was denied.

The Danville City Council voted 5-7 in favor of the special-use permit to allow for the construction of a large ground solar energy system at Aqua Illinois’ water treatment plant at 1300 W. Fairchild St. in the AG Agriculture Zoning District.

Corporation Counsel David Wesner said two-thirds vote, or nine ‘no’ votes were needed to reject the permit over the Danville Area Planning and Zoning Commission’s 4-1 recommended approval. Wesner said the vote total also didn’t meet a majority of alderman, eight, needed to pass.

There were 12 aldermen present, with a Ward 1 vacancy and Ward 6 Alderman Aaron Troglia absent due to a pre-scheduled family vacation, according to Mayor Rickey Williams Jr.

The council considered a re-vote to see if any votes would change, but there was a failed 6-6 vote to have a re-vote.

Aldermen voting in favor of the solar permit were: Dan Duncheon, Steve Nichols, Sherry Pickering, Mike O’Kane and Rick Strebing.

Those voting against the permit were: Steve Foster, Sharon McMahon, Brenda Brown, R.J. Davis, Tom Stone, Bob Iverson and Mike Puhr.

“We have never had a situation such as this to arise,” Williams said, with Wesner agreeing.

Wesner suggested the permit request be sent back to the zoning commission to gather additional information. However, Sol Systems, who Aqua is working with for the 7,000 solar panel project, has a deadline of Friday for a $370,00 deposit due to move the project forward. The project received state tax credit approval already.

Williams said he will seek clarification today for an external attorney’s opinion.

“This is a record breaker …,” Foster said about all the testimony from Sol Systems, Aqua and also the eight nearby residents who spoke against it who also had petitions signed by more than 100 people against the solar array.

The residents again voiced concerns about seeing the solar array, impacts on the neighborhood and wildlife and lower property values.

Brown and other aldermen who voted against the permit said they wanted to be a voice for the people.

Aqua Illinois Area Manager Bob Ervin talked about letters of support for the project from REG, Viscofan and mayors/village board presidents in Catlin, Tilton and Westville. Ervin said the solar project will save Aqua about $100,000 a year for 25 years at least and keep it from seeking water rate increases hopefully for six to eight years.

He said if the property isn't used for the solar project, it could be looked at for additional parking and equipment storage, expansion for addition of new treatment technology, expanded sludge drying operations or other uses.