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 Wednesday after the board’s 12-4 vote.
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’s wind farm would straddle the county line in the Emden area.
In Logan County, a similar extension using the 3-foot strips to connect the wind farm to the Lincoln-Logan County Enterprise Zone was never a point of contention.
It won approval from the Lincoln City Council and Logan County Board without controversy.
Lincoln City Attorney Bill Bates never raised the legality of the matter when it came before the city council, and Logan County State’s Attorney Tim Huyett has said he disagrees with his Tazewell County counterpart’s position that the extension violates the state statue regulating the zones.
Umholtz has asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to give an opinion on the matter and he requested the Tazewell County Board to table the decision until he received Madigan’s opinion.
But, a motion for the board to table the matter failed Wednesday 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 (Umholtz) 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 circuit court to obtain an official ruling.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity regulates enterprise zones in the state. The agency said earlier this month the 3-foot extensions are legal.
Umholtz disagreed with the department’s opinion 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.’
Horizon will pay the Pekin and Tazewell County a $300,000 fee to split for allowing it into the zone.
In addition to its share of the $300,000, Tazewell 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.
A similar agreement has been approved by the Logan County Board.
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
GateHouse News Service
31 July 2008