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Residents sue over wind farm in Lee County; Nearly 60 landowners say project will hurt them

DIXON – The battle over a planned wind farm in southwestern Lee County was long expected to end up in the courts.

And so it has.

On Wednesday, nearly 60 residents filed a lawsuit against the county and Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power. Represented by Rockford attorney Rick Porter, the residents say they own more than 13,000 acres.

They are asking the court to stop the project from beginning and to declare its permits void.

In May, the County Board voted 12-9 for the controversial 53-turbine wind farm, overruling a zoning board recommendation against the project, known as the Green River Wind Farm.

The landowners said they had to file the lawsuit.

“Clearly, this action is necessary to save the value of our homes and farms and to protect the environment, in the face of so much evidence at the ZBA hearings that the construction of so many turbine towers in this populated and fertile farming area will cause very lasting damage,” Sandy Kruse, one of the landowners, said in a statement.

The lawsuit said the wind farm is incompatible with surrounding land uses. The project, it said, will decrease property values, destroy views, create shadow flicker and “incessant and annoying” noise, and hurt wildlife.

The lawsuit identified what the landowners consider procedural errors leading up to the county’s approval of the special-use permits for the project.

The company, for instance, failed to provide a turbine layout, a noise model, or a plan for how it would decommission abandoned turbines, the lawsuit said.

Mainstream’s materials also lacked a certificate from a registered professional engineer that the tower design is sufficient to withstand wind load requirements, according to the lawsuit.

During 10 months of study, the zoning board held 32 meetings on the wind farm, totaling 80 hours. Its denial of the wind farm was a reversal of its decade-long support of such projects.

Previous wind farms sailed through the zoning board in one meeting, but opposition grew over time in Lee County.

Wind farm suppporters argued during the hearings that wind farms bring in much tax revenue for schools and other local government agencies. But one zoning board member said he was focused on the highest and best use of land, not profits and tax revenue. Others said the petition was incomplete.

The zoning board split 3-2 against the wind farm.

Kendall Guither, one of the suing landowners, said the zoning board heard much evidence that the project would hurt neighbors.

“We believe there is evidence that certain members of the Lee County Board acted inappropriately and reached a decision that is hard to square with the findings of the ZBA,” Guither said in a statement.

Lee County Board Chairman Rick Ketchum and Vince Green, Mainstream’s project manager, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Mainstream’s proposal is part of a three-county wind farm, which includes Whiteside and Bureau counties. Last year, Whiteside County approved nine turbines, while Bureau County’s zoning panel recommended against the company’s plan for 19 turbines, saying it didn’t meet the county’s requirements.

Mainstream withdrew its proposal in Bureau County, saying it would submit a new plan.