FREEPORT – The Stephenson County Board on Wednesday unanimously approved extending the local enterprise zone for a wind-farm project, and also moved forward on a major initiative to repair the sally port floor at the local courthouse.
County officials say the extension of the Freeport/Stephenson County Enterprise Zone is an important step to make way for the EcoGrove Wind LLC project proposed for northwest of Lena.
All four taxing bodies that govern the enterprise zone have to approve the extension. So far, Jo Daviess County, the Village of Hanover, and Stephenson County have approved it. The City of Freeport – the last taxing body – will likely vote on the matter at the March 17 City Council meeting.
“It’s incentive for the EcoGrove project,” said County Board Chairman John Blum of the extension. “The enterprise zone allows [the wind-farm company] an exemption in sales tax, and they’ll also get an abatement on property taxes in the first three years.”
Freeport-based EcoEnergy LLC, a division of The Morse Group, is the company that will build the EcoGrove farm.
If formally approved by all four taxing bodies, a total of 670 acres of the EcoGrove project will be annexed into the local enterprise zone. Only the wind turbines and access roads for the wind farm will be included in the zone. The 670 acres will likely be later reduced to around 200 acres.
Public Hearing Set
A Stephenson County Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on the EcoGrove project will be held at 6:30 p.m. March 17 at the courthouse. This is being held because project organizers need to obtain two more special-use permits, one for a substation and one for additional space needed for the farm.
The number of turbines and the size of the farm increased from what was originally proposed. The turbines being used are now smaller and are being spread out over a larger area to accommodate property owners and to meet more stringent setback requirements, said Terry Groves, director of planning and zoning for the county.
The original special-use permit for EcoGrove was approved in 2006, but another permit is needed to encompass the larger farm, Groves said. The County Planning Commission met on March 3 and recommended approval of the new special-use permit applications. Now, the zoning board will evaluate the applications.
“I think EcoGrove has done an outstanding job completing their [special-use] application,” Groves said.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the County Board unanimously approved funding for a construction project at the courthouse not to exceed $40,000. The project involves replacing portions of the concrete floor in the courthouse’s sally port, which is used as a garage-like structure to bring prisoners to court.
Salt from vehicles that park in the sally port has destroyed the integrity of much of the floor over time, and these damaged segments need to be replaced. The floor is directly over the courthouse’s boiler room.
“It needs to be replaced,” said County Board Vice Chairman Jim Graham. “It’s mostly the salt and water off of vehicles that eats away the concrete.”
The project is expected to cost around $27,395, with any additional work to cost $90 a square foot. Board members debated Wednesday whether to set a $40,000 limit on the project in case it costs more than what is anticipated.
Blum said it’s “prudent” to have a realistic cap on a project like this. If a situation arises where the contractor runs over budget, county officials will be able to approve emergency funding so the project can be completed, he said.
County officials hope to start on the project as soon as possible.
“It is sorely needed,” County Sheriff David Snyders said. “It’s been a concern for at least the past five years. I’m pleased that we’re finally going to take steps to get it fixed.”
By Travis Morse
13 March 2008
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