Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz is threatening legal action against the county itself if it ignores his advice and expands an enterprise zone to include a proposed wind farm.
Umholtz sent a letter Tuesday to County Board members, saying he opposes expanding the zone to include the Rail Splitter Wind Farm near the Tazewell and Logan county line, saying it would violate state statute.
“Let me make myself perfectly clear,” Umholtz said in the letter. “The proposed expansion of the enterprise zone does not meet the statutory requirements and should not be approved by the County Board.”
Several board members disagree and point to other counties that have extended their zones to include wind farms with no state opposition.
Umholtz said as state’s attorney, he is responsible for enforcing the law.
Asked Tuesday if that would include suing the county, Umholtz told the Journal Star, “I will consider all options if the law isn’t being followed.”
Several board members reacted to the letter Tuesday.
“We’re the policy makers,” said board member Ken Klopfenstein. “The state’s attorney should provide his advice, but I think that’s where it should stop.”
Klopfenstein said the state has approved numerous other enterprise zone expansions that connect one area with a continuous strip of land to a new area.
The city and county jointly operate the zone and hope to extend it in a similar way with three-foot strips of land, which Umholtz says violates the spirit of the law.
Horizon would pay the city and county a $300,000 fee to split for allowing it into the zone, where it would receive sales tax abatement on the towers it would purchase in the state.
“I recognize some have said, ‘Why not take the money?’ “ Umholtz wrote. “My answer; because it’s wrong and, furthermore, the money offered by the developer pales in comparison to the revenue loss for Illinois taxpayers.”
Board member Melvin Stanford said he was shocked by Umholtz’s position.
“Stu’s the only one of the state’s attorneys that’s taken that position,” Stanford said, referring to neighboring McLean and Logan counties where wind projects have faced no similar opposition.
The project would cover more than 11,000 acres of farmland straddling the Tazewell and Logan county line east of Interstate 155.
The towers would each be 389 feet tall, and 38 of the 67 towers would be in Tazewell County.
It would be the second central Illinois wind farm development for Horizon, which operates the Twin Groves wind farm just east of Bloomington.
The total cost of the wind farm is expected to be between $175 million and $200 million.
By Kevin Sampier
GateHouse News Service
16 July 2008