FREEPORT – A lawsuit seeking to invalidate several controversial wind-farm zoning changes adopted by the Stephenson County Board in July 2007 was resolved in local court Monday.
The resolution of the lawsuit comes shortly after the County Board voted in February to reverse a zoning change that eliminated the need for special-use permits wind farms.
Charles Muscarello, an attorney representing the four area residents who filed the lawsuit, said it was settled Monday after Associate Circuit Judge David Jeffrey issued an order reiterating that the county had reversed the zoning changes in question.
“I consider it an unconditional and complete victory for the residents of Stephenson County,” Muscarello said.
Muscarello said his clients may file a petition seeking to recover attorney fees from the county. The plaintiffs have 45 days to file such a petition, he said.
County officials had hoped that reversing the zoning changes would lead to the lawsuit’s resolution. With the suit resolved, the EcoGrove Wind LLC wind farm proposed for northwest of Lena can move forward on a more timely basis.
Currently, the only pending wind-farm lawsuit is the one against the Lancaster Wind Farm LLC project proposed for Dakota.
“That’s great news,” said County Board Vice Chairman Jim Graham. “It’s just one less piece of litigation that’s hanging over our heads.”
Frank Cook, the county’s special assistant state’s attorney, said once the County Board approved the resolution reversing the zoning changes, there was no longer any basis for the lawsuit.
“Basically, the county accepted the position that was taken in the lawsuit,” Cook said.
Cook said he does not believe there is a basis for the plaintiffs in the suit to seek attorney fees from the county.
“I’m not aware of any basis they have for that,” Cook said. “Nobody forced them to sue us.”
The proposed 100-megawatt EcoGrove farm is being built by Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group. Organizers have said they hope preliminary construction work can begin on the project this spring.
With the EcoGrove project, the county stands to receive significant revenue from permitting fees and enterprise zone fees. The County Board in November 2007 approved a 2007-2008 budget with around $850,000 in projected revenue from fees for the EcoGrove project.
By Travis Morse
4 March 2008
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