In a decision that could have a significant impact on county finances, as well as on the quality of life of many residents, the Stephenson County Board on Thursday will formally decide whether to allow two companies to establish wind farms in this area.
“Obviously, it’s a very serious vote, a very important vote,” said County Board Chairman John Blum.
Both projects have generated considerable controversy. A significant number of property owners have testified in opposition to the wind farms during public hearings held by the Stephenson County Zoning Board of Appeals.
The two firms proposing power-generating wind farms for the county are Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group, and Navitas Energy of Minneapolis.
The zoning board has provided mixed recommendations on the firms’ special-use zoning applications. Last week, the zoning board failed to make a recommendation at all on the EcoEnergy wind farm – slated for northwest of Lena – after a 2-2 vote.
Earlier this month, the Navitas application was denied in a 3-1 vote.
However, one of the zoning board members who voted against the Navitas farm – slated for the Dakota area – has since changed his mind about the project. That board member, Bruce Daws, said he now supports the Navitas farm after visiting the Mendota Hills Wind Farm in Lee County, and determining that the towers there were not “unsightly” and did not make a lot of noise.
It is not possible for Daws to change his vote, and county records will still state that the zoning board voted 3-1 to deny the Navitas application. However, Daws has sent a letter to County Board members informing them of his change of heart, he said.
Blum said the County Board will likely base its decision on whether the applications meet the standards of the county’s wind-farm ordinance.
Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county, said he does not know how the County Board will vote on the wind-farm applications. In the past, the County Board has sometimes voted to go along with the zoning board’s recommendation, and at other times has overruled the zoning board.
“It could go either way,” Groves said. “They just have to look at the standards of our ordinance. … I expect some debate.”
The board will also conduct an in-depth review of the county’s proposed budget for 2006-07 before formally approving the document. Currently, the 2006-07 general fund budget has about $8.9 million in expenses and about $9.1 million in projected revenues, with a projected surplus of about $260,000, officials say.
The budget may undergo some changes Thursday, as county officials plan to examine the document in detail. The county is mandated to have its budget approved by midnight that evening, Blum said. County officials predict that Thursday’s meeting will be lengthy.
In addition Thursday, the board will vote on an ordinance that establishes a new system for taking Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. Blum said the new ordinance is the county’s attempt to “update and make more efficient” the county’s FOIA process.
Thursday’s meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the county courthouse.
The County Board’s reorganizational meeting – where new board members will be sworn in – will be held at 9 a.m. Dec. 4 at the same location.
By Travis Morse, The Journal-Standard
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