DIXON – Hearings on Mainstream Renewable Power’s proposed wind farm are for the public, not just attorneys.
But so far, lawyers have dominated the two hearings that the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals has held on the project, which would include about four dozen turbines.
Hearing procedures don’t give special rights to people with attorneys. Still, when the lawyers raise legal objections and sit at the front tables, the hearings may seem like the province of those holding law degrees.
The meetings are held in the County Board chambers at the Old Lee County Courthouse – in a former courtroom.
It’s probably a familiar setting for the hearings facilitator, Tim Slavin, a retired Whiteside County judge.
He sits at the judge’s raised desk. The zoning board is to the side, where the jury would be. Witnesses testify next to the judge, just as in a courtroom.
Whiteside County’s hearings for the same wind farm ended in June after more than 2 months. Slavin presided there as well, operating by nearly all the same rules.
Under the procedures, everyone has a right to question witnesses and make closing statements.
During much of this week’s hearing, Rockford attorney Rick Porter cross-examined a Mainstream-hired appraiser who says wind farms don’t hurt nearby property values.
Porter represents Hamilton Township and a number of residents who oppose the wind farm.
This is not an unusual role for Porter. He has represented wind turbine opponents in most area counties, including Whiteside, Bureau and Ogle.
Porter wants to get as close as possible to the action. At the first hearing, he asked to use a table near the front so he could spread out all of his materials. Slavin obliged.
At this week’s hearing, when Slavin said people could question the appraiser, Porter got up and asked Slavin if he could sit at the table.
Slavin said yes, but he added, “You’re assuming I’m going to call you first.”
As it turned out, Porter assumed correctly. And he took nearly the entire time pelting the appraiser with questions.
By Porter’s account, he spent a whole day preparing for cross-examining the witness. So when Mainstream’s attorneys said they wanted to change their plans and call a company executive to the stand before the appraiser, Porter objected. He said he hadn’t received notice about that change and needed more time to do his homework for the executive.
Slavin sided with Porter.
At the end of the 21/2-hour meeting, Porter said he had no further questions. But earlier, he indicated his clients planned to bring in an appraisal expert of their own. At this rate, the hearings could last longer than Whiteside County’s.
The board is taking off the rest of the month. Its next hearing will be Aug. 1.
The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon. The meeting is expected to last 21/2 hours.
For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, or more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call 815-288-5676.
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