After an executive session Monday night, the Stephenson County Planning and Development Committee approved motions recommending that the county not require a homeowner protection plan for the local wind farms.
In a unanimous vote, the committee endorsed removing the stipulations in the wind farm special-use permits that require the county to create a protection plan. The full County Board will likely vote on this issue at its next meeting at 6:30 p.m. May 9.
For several months, the committee has discussed a draft version of the plan, which sets up terms by which the wind-farm companies would compensate adjacent homeowners who experience a loss in property value due to the wind towers. A final version of the plan has not yet been approved. The committee laid over the plan in March after two lawsuits were filed seeking to halt the wind-farm projects.
Committee chairman Jeff Mikkelsen said there were several motivations behind the committee’s recommendation Monday. For one thing, the main reason the county wanted to create a homeowner protection plan was to avoid litigation, he said. With the filing of the two lawsuits, this was no longer a possibility.
Another reason not to create a plan is because it sets a dangerous precedent for future economic development projects, Mikkelsen said. Committee members were concerned that creating a plan for the wind-farm projects would lead to residents requesting similar documents be established for other projects. Also, county officials have not seen evidence the projects will hurt property values, Mikkelsen said.
“Once we got our arms around it, we realized we were setting a precedent that could affect all future development,” Mikkelsen said.
Mike King of rural Dakota, a property owner who lives near the proposed Lancaster Wind Farm, said the committee should not have made this recommendation. The purpose of the plan is to protect homeowners; not to prevent the county from being sued, King said.
“I had depended on the county to step up to the plate and provide a plan that would protect me,” King said, adding that one of the proposed wind towers will be less than 1,300 feet from his property. The wind towers, he said, could severely impact his property values.
The lawsuits seek to invalidate the special-use permits that would allow two companies to build wind farms in the county. One of the lawsuits was filed by 10 area property owners objecting to Lancaster Wind Farm LLC, which is proposed for the Dakota area by Navitas Energy of Minneapolis. The other lawsuit – filed by 28 objecting property owners – seeks to prevent the EcoGrove Wind LLC wind farm from being built northwest of Lena by Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group.
Rick Porter, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the EcoEnergy lawsuit, said the committee’s recommendation was clearly in response to the lawsuits and is an example of “classic sour grapes.”
“We’re at a loss to understand why the committee would take this action,” Porter said.
Kevin Lindquist, a senior project developer for Navitas, said it’s up to the county to decide whether to require a protection plan. Even so, Navitas is considering offering such a plan to homeowners even if the county removes the requirement, Lindquist said.
Navitas has not yet made a formal decision on this issue.
By Travis Morse
1 May 2007
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