May 31, 2023 Leigh Martinez

PennFuture and BWA Force Swiftwater Solar Project to Protect Exception Value Stream in Monroe County from Stormwater Pollution

The added environmental protections stem from a lawsuit filed by two Pennsylvania nonprofits that are pro-solar energy

POCONO TOWNSHIP, PA, May 31, 2023 - PennFuture and Brodhead Watershed Association (BWA) secured a settlement on May 30, 2023 that protects the water quality of Exceptional Value Swiftwater Creek, while allowing responsible construction and operation of clean, renewable grid-scale solar energy in Pocono Township, Monroe County. 

Pa. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued water quality permits to developer Swiftwater Solar for its proposed 80 MWh solar facility sited at the top of Bear Mountain in Pocono Township. The project will require the clearing and regrading of almost 500 acres of woodlands, which drain into Exceptional Value Swiftwater Creek and High Quality streams Dry Sawmill Run and Scot Run. In August 2022, PennFuture and BWA filed a lawsuit against DEP and developer Swiftwater Solar, because the permits issued did not ensure that the water quality of these special protection waters would be protected from the degrading impacts of the project.

The settlement, while still allowing the Swiftwater Solar project to go forward and increase the supply of renewable energy in Pennsylvania, creating green jobs and growing the green economy, dramatically improves stormwater protections and prevents degradation of critical Exceptional Value headwater streams like Swiftwater Creek. Swiftwater Solar agreed to dramatic improvements of its construction practices, including incorporating low-impact development practices and improvements in the engineering of its water basins, and a restorative, environmentally sensitive design approach to the final project, including native meadow restoration and improvements to water infiltration practices across the entire site.

“PennFuture fully supports solar energy development and a rapid transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania. This transition, however, must not come at the expense of our other natural resources and water. In the Poconos and across the state, the water and natural resources are a critical driver of quality of life and the economy, and this must be recognized and protected. The reality is that water quality permits process alone may not be enough for some sites, and DEP has to do more than the bare minimum of permit review to make sure it is protecting our water.” said Emma Bast, PennFuture’s Staff Attorney and lead counsel for this matter. “In this case, PennFuture could not allow this solar project to go forward in an Exceptional Value watershed as designed. We fought diligently to ensure that the Swiftwater Solar would not only provide much needed clean, renewable energy, but that the final project would provide required water quality protections to Swiftwater Creek, Dry Sawmill Run, and Scot Run.”

“Swiftwater Creek is one of the most important tributaries in the Brodhead Watershed.  The Brodhead Watershed Association (BWA) petitioned to re-designate the creek to Exceptional Value (EV) in 2007, and has defended the Swiftwater time and time again against projects that threaten its Exceptional Value water quality designation,” said Dr. Alexander Jackson, Executive Director of the Brodhead Watershed Association. “While the loss of hundreds of acres of trees and the ecosystem protections they afford our watershed is devastating, we are ultimately satisfied that Swiftwater Solar will be constructed and operated in a way now that will be considerably less likely to degrade the EV Swiftwater Creek.   BWA will remain vigilant against any threats to the water quality throughout the over 300 square mile Brodhead Watershed.”