The chairman of the Morgan County Commission is denying any conflict of interest in his relationship with a property owner in an area being considered for a proposed wind farm.
Because the county could ultimately vote on whether to allow a 300-megawatt wind farm project by Apex Clean Energy, commission Chair Brad Zeller’s role with Z & R Property is under scrutiny. The group Morgan County Wind Watch has gone as far as calling for Zeller to step down from the commission – something he told the Journal-Courier on Wednesday is not going to happen.
Resident Bob Kindred read a letter at the commission’s meeting Monday outlining the group’s allegation of a conflict and their demands that Zeller recuse himself from votes related to wind projects and consider resigning.
Zeller did not respond to Kindred and the group during the commission meeting, but said in an interview Wednesday that he has no business relationship with the property owner mentioned in the group’s letter.
Zeller is the agent listed for Z & R Property Inc., formed in 2010, according to Secretary of State records. He said Z & R Property was formed for non-commercial property they own together. The property is not leased for the proposed wind farm, he said.
“There is a Z & R Property. It is 20 acres of recreational farm ground with a pond on it,” he said.
Zeller confirmed that Richard Rees is involved in Z & R Property with him. Zeller said he has no business dealings with Rees or any property owner who has a lease with the wind farm project and that he doesn’t have any financial investment in any properties that might be involved in the project.
He said he does not see a conflict of interest.
As a long-time resident of the area, Zeller said he has many friends there, including some who are lease holders and some who are against wind projects. He feels he has an obligation to stay neutral if the county receives an application for a wind permit.
“I know several people that have signed leases that I would consider friends and I don’t feel I have a conflict. I have no financial interest with them and they have no more ability to influence my vote than my friends who aren’t lease holders and express their concerns about the wind project. I listen to every person that wants to come forward to me and hear both sides of the equation,” he said. “That’s what our job is at the county court – to make the best decision possible for this county.”
Apex Clean Energy’s proposed Lincoln Land Wind farm would construct between 83 and 120 turbines in the eastern part of the county and supply energy to Ameren’s lines. The project is one of two that have been communicating with land owners, doing analysis and performing environmental impact studies on potential wind farm sites in Morgan County in recent months.
The county has been reviewing its wind ordinance and no permit applications for wind projects are being considered until the ordinance has been updated.
Zeller said he has no plans to resign and, if he were to recuse himself, that decision would be made when there is a vote to recuse himself from.
“When the vote happens – if the vote happens – the decision will be made at that time,” he said.
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