Controversial wind farm proposal under fire from federal lawsuit by citizens group; decisive action by new town board following recall election.
A controversial western Wisconsin wind energy project has come under fire and may be stopped by a federal lawsuit which was filed by a citizens group on February 9, 2011, and by decisive action by a new town board that was elected through a successful recall election of the former town board members who had approved the proposed wind energy project last summer.
After taking office following a recall election on February 15, 2011, the newly elected town board members for the Town of Forest, in St. Croix County, Wisconsin, voted to rescind a controversial wind energy development agreement and other approvals that had been granted to a wind developer, in a decisive vote on March 17, 2011. As a result, the project, which was proposed by a private wind energy developer named Emerging Energies, LLC, is now under fire and may be stopped.
The federal lawsuit was filed on February 9, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, by a Western Wisconsin citizens group named Forest Voice, LLC, and several individual citizens, against the Town of Forest, its former town board members, and Emerging Energies, LLC.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by attorneys Glenn M. Stoddard and Patricia Keahna, of Stoddard Law Office. The suit alleges that the Town of Forest, its former board members, Roger Swanepoel, Carlton Cress and Douglas Karau, and Emerging Energies, LLC, acted in concert to intentionally violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law, by approving two different wind energy development agreements during 2008 and 2010.
According to Attorney Glenn Stoddard, “[t]he suit alleges that the former town board members had conflicts of interest and illegal and secretive dealings with Emerging Energies, LLC, in order to reach the agreements, which provide substantial financial benefits only to property owners who support the proposed wind energy project and who own residences within a half mile of the proposed wind turbines.” The lawsuit seeks to nullify the 2008 and 2010 agreements, halt the proposed wind energy project, and other relief.
Forest Voice, LLC is a citizens group comprised of individual landowners, and Town of Forest property owners, whose goal is to create community awareness about the realities of wind energy development.
The Town of Forest is located in St. Croix County, Wisconsin, approximately midway between Clear Lake and Glenwood City, Wisconsin. The group formed early in the fall of 2010 after its members learned that their 36-square mile community was targeted for a wind energy project consisting of 39, 500-foot tall wind towers.
According to Attorney Stoddard, most Town of Forest residents were completely unaware that the former the town board members, who lost a special recall election on February 15, 2011, had approved an agreement in 2008 and another one on August 12, 2010, to proceed with the proposed wind energy project. The landowners who signed contractual leases to allow wind turbines on their properties are prohibited contractually from talking about the leases and the proposed project, so the project was kept secret for some time.
That the first public notice of the controversial wind energy project to the broader community arrived in the form of a postcard which was mailed to each Town of Forest property owner with postage paid out of Town funds, announcing the project and a planned bus trip to Glenmore, Wisconsin, to view the “Shirley Project”–which was represented as having “the same wind turbines that are coming to Forest, WI.” No public hearing was ever held by the defendants during a three-year development period marked by secretive deliberations between the former town board members and Emerging Energies, LLC.
Because the Town of Forest is a densely populated rural area consisting of farms, hobby farms, and small acreage homesteads, many non-participating property owners believe the utility-scale wind turbine project is inappropriate for their township, because of unacceptable setback and noise allowances from non-participating residences in the two agreements. The plaintiffs in the case allege that the proposed wind energy project would destroy their quality of life and have adverse health and safety impacts on them. Moreover, the process that led to the two agreements, and the substance of the agreements, allegedly violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection of the law.
Attorney Stoddard said, “[t]he plaintiffs are concerned that installation of the proposed project would unfairly stigmatize and devalue their properties and interfere with the quiet, rural quality of life they currently enjoy. Residents who had no knowledge of the size and scope of the project, and no input into the development are unwilling to be so adversely affected by the health and safety issues associated with the proposed project, which includes 39 massive wind turbines.”
Most disturbing to the plaintiffs and other non-participating residents were the contents of open records which laid out the secretive dealings between attorneys for the Town and the developer and the former town board members.
The agreement of August 12, 2010, superseded an earlier agreement of April 2008. Former Town Chairman, Roger Swanepoel, who allegedly contracted with Emerging Energies, LLC for two wind turbines on his property, signed the 2008 agreement. When conflicts of interest centering on financial gain became apparent between all members of the former Town board, a scheme was allegedly devised to circumvent and replace the 2008 agreement with a new agreement to allow development of the proposed wind energy project. Evidence of corruption and collusion and “creative” measures to remedy conflicts of interests surfaced in over 83 pages of documents obtained through public records requests by Town of Forest residents.
According to Attorney Stoddard, “Town of Forest meeting minutes revealed inconsistencies in communications between the former town board members and the town plan commission, and failure to follow agenda rules. Former Town Chairman Roger Swanepoel recused himself from voting on and signing the 2010 agreement, but it was approved and signed by former town supervisors Carlton Cress and Douglas Karau. Since both Cress and Karau stand to receive substantial financial gains under the 2010 agreement, they allegedly had serious and illegal conflicts of interest and should not have voted on or approved the agreement.”
In October 2010, Forest Voice requested that the Town board rescind the allegedly illegal 2010 agreement, signed on August 12, 2010 with Emerging Energies, LLC and Bill Rakocy, the owner of Emerging Energies, of Hubertus, Wisconsin.
On December 2, 2010, recall petitions were served on the Town of Forest town clerk with petitions containing 93 signatures, above the 50 that was required of the electorate. The process culminated in the recall election held on February 15, 2011. All three town board members were recalled and a new town board was elected.
On March 17, 2011, the new Town board voted to rescind the August 12, 2010 wind energy development agreement and took other action to rescind and nullify other wind energy project approvals that had been made hastily by the former town board members at about the time of the recall election.
Attorney Stoddard said: “The recent actions by the new Town board are a welcome development but the federal lawsuit against the town, the former town board members and Emerging Energies, LLC is likely to be continued, since the company has apparently threatened the new Town board with legal action and has taken an aggressive stance. As a result, we are expecting the company to try to push ahead with the wind energy project despite the recall, the rescission and the federal lawsuit.”
Brenda Salseg, a property owner and managing member of the Forest Voice, LLC, said: “What has happened in our township is heartbreaking and has left many residents feeling betrayed. Those of us who researched industrial wind turbines found disturbing evidence of health, safety, and property devaluation issues associated with so-called wind farms when turbines are sited too close to homes. It’s all about what is profitable rather than responsible, which is what I thought green energy is supposed to be. We believe the people who have reported they are suffering from the effects of the Blue Sky/Green Field wind project in the Fond du Lac area of Wisconsin, as well as countless similar stories throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Something must be done to make more people aware of the negative consequences of industrial wind energy to people, animals, and ecosystems. To force non-participating residents to live inside a wind factory on a scale unheard of in any other type of energy producing resource is a violation of our constitutional rights. And the funding to developers for these projects with taxpayer dollars for an inefficient and parasitic form of renewable energy is unacceptable. The statement we continually hear that ‘wind energy is green, clean, and renewable’ is nothing more than deception.”
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