MONMOUTH – The Warren County Board again tabled a decision on renewing the Monarch Wind Farms lease of the county farm.
The lease has a termination clause that would allow the board to end the lease if the wind farm was not producing electricity by August. In December, State’s Attorney Chip Algren said Monarch had contacted him and asked for an extension. Construction, which is expected to begin this spring, has been slowed by the state’s funding issues. At the time, the board asked Algren to have another attorney review the entire lease. Algren contacted Richard Porter, an environmental lawyer who has represented clients on both sides of wind farm debates.
In a letter to the board, Algren said after many hours of discussion with Porter and Monarch Wind Farms President Robert Gay, “overall the lease is fair and equitable to both parties; some of the terms and conditions in the lease were not consistent with the special use exemptions previously approved by the County Board.”
Algren disagreed with board member Steven Johnson, who said the latter statement meant it was good for the board to delay making a decision and have the lease reviewed. He said because the board wanted the lease reviewed some areas would be clarified, but the special use exemptions would have trumped the wording in the lease regardless.
“There weren’t any big flaws,” Algren said. “We looked at it from the standpoint of if we were starting from ground zero, how we would write this. … The final lease does have changes different from the lease currently in affect. The majority had to do with conditions of special use, some were different and not quite the same as what’s in the lease. That’s not a priority because special use takes precedent, but if we redo the lease we thought we may as well put them in.”
Algren’s letter also stated that, in terms of the amount of money the county will receive from the lease, “some leases for other projects pay more but some pay less, the county’s lease is the average.”
Because Algren does not have the “final authority” to negotiate the lease, he requested a committee review the proposal so it could be finalized and voted on. While there is no official deadline other than August, Algren said continued delays will effectively halt the project in the interim because investors and the state will not provide money for a project that could be cancelled in August.
The board voted to table the issue so Algren could send out a finalized lease for review by Feb. 23. A special buildings and grounds committee meeting will then take place 7 p.m. March 2 to discuss any questions and a special full board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. March 9 for a final vote.
“All I ask is if people have questions or other issues to please let me know, so if you’re going to come in two weeks from now you don’t come in with new questions that we have to go back on,” Algren said.
Board member Sean Cavanuagh said setting a deadline was important because “the longer we wait, regardless of what’s in the lease, there’s going to be a new question if we wait 100 years.”
The most contentious moment of the discussion was when board member Dave Jenks accused Algren of working for Monarch Wind Farms and not the county.
“How many times have you dealt with somebody you have a lease agreement with and the person who wants to lease the property doesn’t show up to renew the lease. Chip was working for Monarch Farm. It’s up to Monarch Wind Farm to approach us to renew the lease. … It was presented through Chip and it should have been presented by Monarch,” Jenks said. “We asked for an opinion and got a letter back from (Algren) based on your opinion of his opinion.”
Algren objected to the sentiment that he was not representing the county and said it was Monarch Wind Farm who contacted him about the lease agreement, not the other way around. He added that if the board wanted to have a Monarch representative at the meeting that was their prerogative.
“That’s fine, if you want somebody from Monarch, tell them,” Algren said.
Prior to the board’s decision, Ruth Harlow and Kim Schertz spoke out against the wind farm. Both have been at several zoning and board meetings to express their concerns. Schertz said at least three Illinois counties have a moratorium on wind farms after problems with decommissioning, road damage and turbines that were replaced at almost double their original size.
“You have a unique opportunity to not get caught like all these other counties got caught,” Schertz said.” The 10-year-old ordinance wasn’t good enough. You have a golden opportunity to not be put in the same situation and to not renew this lease before reworking your ordinance. … Every county’s wind farm ordinance were all written and designed by the wind companies and are totally unsatisfactory for protecting your citizens.”
Harlow was focused on the terms and length of the lease, saying 80 years was too long. Algren said the lease is technically for 40 years and a clause addressing “years 40 through 80” had been stricken from the lease already.
Harlow also presented the board with 106 signatures from Warren County tax payers opposed to the wind farm. She also included letters from former speaker of the house Dennis Hastert and a retired Monmouth College professor who both supported a moratorium on wind farms.
“Why would they send us down the wrong path,” she asked.
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