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Wind panel debates to the end

Members of a Lee County committee reviewing the county’s wind farm ordinance never reached a consensus on the major issues. Indeed, they didn’t even take any votes.

On Monday, county staffers took widely varying recommendations from the eight-member committee and planned to put them into the meeting minutes. Those minutes will be presented to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

All five members of the Zoning Board are on the committee. The board will vote on the issues and then present recommendations to the 28-member Lee County Board, which has the final say.

On issue after issue Monday night, Chairman Ron Conderman took a more pro-wind industry position. Another committee member, Steve Robery, who has called for greater regulation, took stands less palatable to wind companies.

Robery recommended a property value guarantee for sites near wind turbines, saying such guarantees should last forever or until landowners sell their lots. He said the assurance is needed because turbines cause neighboring property values to drop – which some members disputed.

Robery suggested independent appraisals paid for by wind energy companies to determine property values.

Conderman called such an idea “ridiculous.”

“That property could change in value one way or another and that could have nothing to do with windmills,” he said.

Robery replied that the industry could afford the appraisals and that the Zoning Board’s duty is to protect residents’ property values.

Committee member Keith Bolin, who works for a wind energy company, agreed with Conderman.

“It’s a slippery slope blaming all property value declines on turbines,” he said.

Committee member Mike Pratt recommended that wind companies negotiate with nearby property owners before setting up turbines, offering to pay them for their sacrifices.

He said such a process involves the neighborhood from the beginning.

As for the noise from wind turbines, Conderman recommended the county go with the standards of the Illinois Pollution Control Board.

Robery disagreed, saying the state agency doesn’t have an enforcement arm. He also said the county should mandate a complaint resolution procedure for wind farms.

Conderman asked how much should be put in escrow for companies to deal with complaints, saying $1,000 or $2,000 wouldn’t be enough.

Robery suggested $250,000.

“That’s off the top of my head,” he said. “If there are no complaints, the company can get the money back [later] with interest. It’s an investment for them.”

Bolin, the industry representative, took exception to creating escrow funds. He said the companies already pay taxes to the county, calling Robery’s proposal double taxation.

Also during the meeting, the committee discussed the procedure for abandoning turbines. Several members suggested it be an issue between the companies and the landowners, typically farmers.

Robery and others, however, suggested county involvement in the process, saying no one wanted old turbines to remain standing unused forever.

Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon said the county should be careful not to interfere with contracts between the companies and the landowners.

“You guys think you can interfere with contractual rights. I don’t think that’s legitimate,” Dixon said.

Conderman said the Zoning Board would take up the committee’s recommendations, but he set no date for when that would happen.

The committee met for several months. In September, the county instituted a moratorium on new wind farms, but it expired in February.

The County Board hasn’t taken up the issue of whether to renew the moratorium, but its chairman, Jim Seeberg, has said he was against the moratorium in the first place.