The Tazewell County Board approved extending an enterprise zone to a proposed wind farm against the recommendation of State’s Attorney Stewart Umholtz, who said legal action against the county is the next step.
“The issue will get before an Illinois court,” Umholtz said after the 12-4 vote Wednesday.
Umholtz says the extension violates the Illinois Enterprise Zone Act. He said he could find no supporting case law for the city of Pekin and the county to extend their jointly owned enterprise zone using connected, 3-foot-wide strips of land from Pekin to the Tazewell and Logan county line.
The extension would allow the Rail Splitter Wind Farm, proposed by Horizon Wind Energy LLC, to receive sales tax abatement on towers it would purchase in the state.
Horizon will pay the city and county a $300,000 fee to split for allowing it into the zone.
Umholtz asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to give an opinion on the matter and asked the County Board to table the decision until he received it.
A motion to table failed and the enterprise zone expansion passed, with members Mike Godar, Mike Harris, Jan Donahue and Russell Crawford voting against it.
Member Dean Grimm abstained because he will host wind towers on his property.
“The arrogance of this County Board is unacceptable,” Crawford said after the vote.
“I support Stewart 100 percent and encourage Stewart to go forward with legal action,” Godar said.
Umholtz said either his office or Madigan’s office, depending on her opinion, will bring the matter to court to get an official ruling.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity regulates enterprise zones in the state and said earlier this month the 3-foot extensions are legal.
Umholtz disagrees and encouraged Madigan’s office to investigate the IDCEO “regarding the agency’s conduct in administering its duties and responsibilities under the Enterprise Zone Act.”
“I can only give them advice,” Umholtz said of the board’s decision to vote against his recommendation. “My disappointment is really with (Horizon) for putting the county in this position.”
In addition to its share of the $300,000 fee, the county will also receive $80,000 from Horizon for inclusion in the zone.
Horizon will pay that amount for the estimated cost the county will lose on local construction material purchases, said County Administrator David Jones.
A road use agreement between the county and Horizon was also passed Wednesday night. The company will pay $1.19 million for upgrading roads that will be used during construction.
Board members also approved a decommissioning plan that threatened to stall the entire project just two weeks ago.
Umholtz’s office said the plan left the county vulnerable to liabilities if Horizon goes bankrupt, sells the wind farm or abandons it.
Horizon Project Development Manager Bill Whitlock said he was pleased with the decisions board members made Wednesday night.
“These are major milestones for the project to clear,” Whitlock said. “We applaud the board’s courage this evening.
“We respect State’s Attorney Umholtz’s opinion; however, we disagree with it.”
By Kevin Sampier
Of The Journal Star
30 July 2008