November 19, 2010

Lee wind farm review panel called ‘biased’

McClatchy-Tribune Regional News - Sam Smith Daily Gazette, Sterling, Ill., via: 18 November 2010

Two groups looking to curb industrial wind development in Lee County are calling the ad hoc committee charged with reviewing local law “biased” and “a sham.”

Jim Timble and Larry Gerdes, both members of different grassroots organizations, have called on the Lee County Board to allow public comment at the hearings and to name more residents living in and around the areas affected by wind farms to the committee.

“There is a clear conflict of interest here,” Timble said. “We have a scenario of too many foxes in the rooster house.”

Last month, the county board appointed an 8-member panel to review the county’s wind ordinances and examine, among many other items, whether zoning requirements should include longer setbacks from homes.

The panel included the five members of the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals; Keith Bolin, the local office manager for Mainstream Renewable Energy, a wind company looking to build in Lee; Alan Pfeifer, the developer and dean of Sauk Valley Community College’s new wind energy maintenance curriculum; and Mark Wagner, a rural Franklin Grove resident and member of Lee County Informed.

Bolin, the panel member who manages Mainstream’s Ashton office, has since voluntarily relinquished his voting rights on the panel.

Even so, “This whole thing is a sham,” Gerdes said. “The group is clearly biased. … This panel was created to give the impression that, ‘Hey, we’re doing something,’ and then going right back to business as usual.”

Gerdes is a member and key organizer of the Informed Farmers Coalition, a group of landowners and residents in and around the Walnut area.

He owns thousands of acres of land across northern Illinois, including land within Mainstream’s proposed wind farm, and spoke by phone early this week from his home in Atlanta, where he is chairman and CEO of Transcend Services, a hospital data management company.

Timble co-owns Broadview-based Bearing Headquarters, a bearing and transmission parts manufacturer with close ties to the wind industry. He lives in Franklin Grove and is a key member of Lee County Informed, which is composed mostly of eastern Lee County residents.

Gerdes said the county board’s motivation in commissioning the review panel was to give the impression that members wanted a closer look at local law while paying only lip service to a thorough and impartial review.

“These people’s goal is to see as many [wind turbines] built as possible without regard for the long-term effects on property values and quality of life,” Gerdes said.

John Nicholson, the county board vice chairman who led appointments to the review committee, disagreed with Timble and Gerdes.

“I’m happy with this committee,” Nicholson said. “I believe it’s a very impartial group.”

The entire Zoning Board was asked to serve “not so much as members of the Zoning Board, but as individuals who are very familiar with wind farms and have been with the issue pretty much since the beginning,” Nicholson said.

Bolin, too, was appointed because “he can offer expert advice on the windmill side of things,” Nicholson said.

Allowing no public comment at the hearings came from a recommendation from Ron Conderman, chairman of the ad hoc committee and of the Zoning Board. He has asked constituents to put their concerns in writing and allow the committee to rely on peer-reviewed research, rather than circumstantial testimony.

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