ROCKFORD – The first wind turbines to be approved by Winnebago County were supposed to rise this summer over farm fields in Seward Township that would produce corn, soybeans and, eventually, electric power.
But Navitas Energy Corp. has not submitted plans or maps with Winnebago County identifying where the turbines would go, much less broken ground on the project. As winter and freezing temperatures approach, the earliest anything may happen is spring.
Further complicating matters, Navitas faces a lawsuit filed by an Arizona woman who owns land near the path of the proposed wind farm.
“People ask me about it all the time, I think because they know I was such a supporter of it,” said Richard Beuth, a farmer and Seward Township trustee who has contracts with Minneapolis-based Navitas to place as many as five turbines on his 950-acre farm.
“But I tell them I don’t know too much about it, just that we’re waiting to hear about what happens with the lawsuit.”
That lawsuit was filed in Winnebago County by Patricia Muscarello, an Arizona resident who owns Watts Farm, Hilton Farm and Ross Farm, which collectively comprise more than 400 acres near German Valley. Muscarello’s property is near an area where Navitas Energy Corp. would erect more than 100 wind turbines as part of a farm of more than 400 turbines that would span three counties.
Muscarello’s complaint alleges that Winnebago County employed a faulty process to establish its wind farm ordinance, that erecting turbines infringes on her property rights and that wind turbines are a public nuisance.
Muscarello made similar arguments in 2006 when she was a plaintiff opposing a separate wind farm in Ogle County. A federal appeals court ruled against Muscarello in August on that lawsuit, but the litigation is still tied up in court at the state level.
After the appeals court ruling in the Ogle County case, Muscarello’s attorney amended her Winnebago County complaint. Her complaint now includes allegations that Winnebago County officials never notified her of a key public hearing, that turbines are noisy and that turbine blades could come loose and land on her property.
Muscarello’s attorney, John Rearden, declined to comment.
Winnebago County filed paperwork Nov. 3 asking a judge to dismiss Muscarello’s lawsuit.
Neither Andy Evans, project manager for Navitas, nor the company’s attorney, Clayton Lindsey, could be reached last week.
No effort to settle
Muscarello has made no overtures regarding a settlement and county officials haven’t expressed any interest in going that route either, said Winnebago County Assistant State’s Attorney Sarah Hohe, who represents the Winnebago County Board, the county Zoning Board of Appeals and members of county administration named in the lawsuit.
“We’re always preparing to go to trial,” Hohe said.
Beuth said local taxing bodies, and by extension, taxpayers, stand to lose the most if the project doesn’t move forward. Each turbine, he said, would be assessed at roughly $20,000.
“The farmers will get by just fine; we’ll just continue to farm just like we always have,” Beuth said.
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