BLOOMINGTON – The McLean County Board signed off on another local wind farm Tuesday, but not without controversy.
The board voted 10-8 to let Chicago-based alternative energy company Invenergy build its proposed McLean County Wind Energy Center near Chenoa and Lexington after board members failed repeatedly to change or delay the proposal as approved last month by the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Members and the public questioned whether the ZBA properly assessed several issues over more than 30 hours of public hearings, including the sound of the turbines, where they should be placed, whether they’ll impede business and how they’ll affect local creeks and wildlife.
The board voted 10-8 against an amendment that would have added requirements for the county’s building and zoning office to get paid objective, third-party assessments of several issues in question.
“We just went through some layoffs. … It was painful. And now somehow we’re gonna (pay) money that’s not budgeted for the staff because for some reason we have members that don’t like our own zoning department?” asked member David Selzer, referring to comments from Catherine Metsker, who proposed the amendment. “I don’t know where the money comes from.”
Metsker’s amendment followed two motions delaying the decision that were ultimately withdrawn. Members sought first to push the vote to April and then to send the proposal back to the ZBA, but either would have pushed the decision more than 30 days from the most recent public hearing, triggering another public hearing under state law, with an $18,000 notification expense.
“This is politics 101: when you don’t think you have the votes, you delay,” said member Erik Rankin. “The ZBA has done their job. … We either vote for their recommendation or not.”
“Politics 101 is trying to find a balance to see if we can still find a way to save it and bring other peoples’ concerns in,” responded member Chuck Erickson.
Member Don Cavallini, who proposed a delay to April, said he hoped to use the time in between to work out a solution to benefit local landowners who won’t get money from the turbines but whose lives will be harmed by them.
“This tabling motion, in my opinion, is nothing more than a delaying tactic to kill this,” said member Paul Segobiano. “That’s why Mr. Cavallini is here, and I take exception to that.”
“I’m not here to kill this plan. I’m here for us to consider ways to make it better so that everyone can come out a winner,” said Cavallini. “If this is a good plan, everybody should win. We should go away from this meeting today feeling positive about what we have done for the entire county. … If we leave here and we can’t feel that, then we need to think about what we’re doing.”
Erickson proposed sending the request back to the ZBA for more study, including of many of the issues Metsker questioned.
“The burden of proof is on the applicant, not on the objectors,” member Susan Schafer said. “They have not met the burden of proof to me.”
Josh Barnett, Jacob Beard, Randall Martin, Scott Murphy, Rankin, Carlo Robustelli, Ryan Scritchlow, Segobiano, Selzer and Jim Soeldner voted in favor of the proposal.
Bill Caisley, Cavallini, Erickson, George Gordon, Mark Johnson, Metsker, Schafer and George Wendt voted “no.”
Member Laurie Wollrab did not attend the meeting. Chair John McIntyre didn’t vote.
The board also approved the county’s first three solar farms Tuesday. Metsker and Schafer voted no on all three.
“These solar farms are only bringing in 2 megawatts of energy for (taking) 40 to 60 acres (of prime farmland) out of production,” said Metsker.