After considerable discussion and debate, the Stephenson County Board on Thursday approved special-use zoning applications that will allow two companies to establish power-generating wind farms in this area.
Officials estimated that more than 100 people attended the special County Board meeting, and the board room was so crowded that many people had to stand during the proceedings.
The board voted 16-3 to approve the application for EcoGrove Wind LLC, a wind farm proposed for a site northwest of Lena by Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group. The board also voted 13-6 to approve Lancaster Wind Farm LLC, a farm proposed for the Dakota area by Navitas Energy of Minneapolis.
Many board members spoke in favor of the wind farms, calling them important renewable energy projects for this region. Board member Linda Dotson said she visited a wind farm in Wisconsin and found that they weren’t noisy or disruptive.
“The windmills are a renewable energy and we need to be self-sufficient,” Dotson said. “I believe renewable energy is the way we need to go.”
Board member Todd McKenna said the county is limited in how it can raise new revenue by tax caps, and that the wind farms are a safe, effective way to help deal with that problem.
Not all board members supported the project, however. Board member Alvin Wire said the wind farms do affect how property owners are able to use and enjoy their land. He brought up several concerns like lighting on the wind towers, the wind farms’ effect on property values and the impacts on landscape.
“The residences that are there, those (property) values do change,” Wire said.
Board member William Hadley made a motion to delay voting on the wind farms for 30 days so members would have more time to review all the information and make a “field trip” to visit a wind farm currently in operation. His motion was denied.
“I just can’t make a judgment within 15 days,” Hadley said. “(There are) a lot of unanswered questions.”
The majority of board members, however, were supportive of the wind farms.
“There is a great deal of support for this,” said board member Jim Kuhlmeier. “The opposition is far from universal.”
Both projects have proven controversial, drawing a significant number of property owners to testify in opposition during public hearings held by the Stephenson County Zoning Board of Appeals.
The zoning board 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 after a 2-2 vote. Earlier this month, the Navitas application was denied in a 3-1 vote.
In addition to the wind farm vote, the County Board on Thursday also conducted an in-depth review of the county’s proposed budget for 2006-07. The board was still examining the document as of press time, but was required to have its budget approved by midnight Thursday evening, officials said.
The most current figures show that the county’s 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.
Also on Thursday, the board approved an ordinance that establishes a new system for taking Freedom of Information Act requests from the public. The new ordinance is the county’s attempt to “update and make more efficient” the county’s FOIA process, according to County Board Chairman John Blum.
By Travis Morse, The Journal-Standard
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