A group of residents fighting a proposed wind farm in Henry County say that more than 65 significant Native American cultural sites have been identified and they expect to find more.
The 16-resident group, named STOP II after a similar group’s efforts in the 1990s to stop a coal mine in the same area, filed a lawsuit in March against the county and Avangrid, the company developing the 40-turbine wind farm located in Burns and Kewanee townships. The suit challenges the county’s permitting process and the farm’s placement near the Great Sauk Trail, a trail used historically for travel and hunting by Native Americans in the region.
Linda Grant, a spokeswoman for the group, said the group has developed a partnership with national Native American leaders to map the trail, information that they will provide to state agencies who oversee the wind farm’s permitting process.
“We have almost completed the mapping requested for the State and will be submitting it shortly,” Grant said. “We have identified well over 65 sites and more possible sites need to be verified before we submit.“
The project still has to go through a state permitting process before the county could issue an actual building permit to Avangrid, according to County Board Chairman Marshall Jones.
She said the two groups have worked in tandem, with the intent of triggering a federal approval process that would consider the trail’s historic value and whether the wind farm might damage that. In May, several tribal leaders gave a presentation at Black Hawk college East on the trail’s cultural importance.
“Once this is submitted and the Native American tribes submit their letters of interest,” she said, “we are hoping it will become a Federal 106 permitting situation.“
According to the U.S. Department of Interior website, “Section 106 requires Federal agencies to take into account the effects of their undertakings on historic properties and to provide the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) with a reasonable opportunity to comment.” The section calls for consultation with Native American groups and allows for an area to be designated as an official historic place protected from development.
Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed by STOP II has yet to make it to a courtroom after several extensions have been granted. The original response date was 30 days from filing.
Grant said she thinks that part of the effort will be decided upon soon.
“We will be talking with our attorney in the next two weeks to see a projected court date,” she said.
Around 60 residents in the township have already signed leases with Avangrid, which did not respond to a request for comment in time for this story.
The Henry County Board gave approval to the initial siting of the wind farm last year, citing the economic benefits to the region. The wind towers are estimated to generate $25 to $30 million over the course of their life span and their construction could provide up to 200 construction jobs and four-to-six permanent jobs.
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