A tie vote by the Stephenson County Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday has propelled the proposed EcoGrove Wind LLC wind farm project – slated for northwest of Lena – to the Stephenson County Board next week without a recommendation from the zoning board.
The zoning board failed to make a recommendation after a 2-2 vote during the fifth and final public hearing on the EcoGrove special-use zoning application, said Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county. The application was from Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group, which is pursuing the project.
EcoEnergy is one of two firms proposing power-generating wind farms for Stephenson County. The other is Navitas Energy of Minneapolis. The Navitas application was denied by the zoning board during a public hearing earlier this month. However, the full County Board will have the final say on both projects at a special meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the county courthouse.
Both projects have proved controversial because many property owners objecting to the wind farms have testified in opposition during the public hearings. Groves said the hearing process has been “trying,” but that the zoning board did an admirable job.
John Urish, a zoning board member who voted against the application, declined to comment at length on his reasons for not supporting the application. Other zoning board members either declined to comment or were unavailable for comment.
“We’ll just see how it plays out with the County Board,” Urish said.
Rick Porter, an attorney representing about 27 landowners, said he and his clients are pleased the zoning board is not recommending the EcoGrove application. However, they wanted the zoning board to go a step further and recommend the County Board not approve the proposal, he said.
Porter said there are many concerns, including safety, property values, and noise. In addition, the application did not contain a correct legal description of the project, and failed to meet other requirements of the county’s wind farm ordinance, Porter said.
Shawn Gaffney, president of EcoEnergy, said he felt the hearing process was fair, but that he wished it was “less adversarial” than it was. Gaffney also said EcoEnergy could have done a better job communicating to adjacent property owners, but that the company will work to correct those problems. Gaffney said he still believes the project will be beneficial for Stephenson County.
“We look forward to moving ahead with the project,” Gaffney said.
Mary Lobdell of Lena, an adjacent property owner who testified during the EcoGrove hearing process, said she would have preferred the zoning board vote against the application.
Lobdell said she has numerous problems with the project. For one thing, her family was not informed about the EcoGrove wind farm until they received a registered letter Oct. 19. Adjacent property owners should have received an earlier warning, she said.
Also, Lobdell said she’s worried the wind towers may disrupt the habitat of a wetland area on her property. She also has concerns regarding safety, the disruption of scenery, and the need to preserve historical and agricultural land.
“I’m still real concerned about the farmland,” Lobdell said.
Dan Fishburn, an attorney representing EcoGrove Wind LLC, said he is still optimistic that the County Board will support this project. The wind farm is an important proposal for this area, both from an economic development standpoint and from a renewable-energy standpoint, he said.
“We’re looking forward to getting a positive vote on the 30th,” Fishburn said.
By Travis Morse, The Journal-Standard
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