CLINTON – A lawsuit opposing development of an industrial wind complex in northwest DeWitt County has been filed on behalf of 69 constituents against the DeWitt County Board and Enel Energy, owner of Alta Farms II.
“This was something we wanted to avoid, but at this point, we have no choice,” said Olivia Klemm, one of the opponents of the wind farm. “We are not done fighting.”
In July, the county board voted 6-5 to approve a special use permit for Enel Energy, owner of Alta Farms II, to build 66 wind turbines, up to 599 feet tall on 12,000 acres in DeWitt County. A group of citizens has been fighting the project for several years.
The county board’s two advisory boards, the Regional Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, had been presented with 54 hours of testimony from residents and experts. Both of these committees voted not to recommend approval of the special use permit application, Klemm added.
“Most of the DeWitt County Board members who voted for the special use permit did not attend the hearings where sentiment and evidence against the project were presented,” she said.
“The County Board disregarded these recommendations by their advisory boards, failed to comply with local ordinances and ignored overwhelming community opposition to the wind turbine project,” said Teri Wilson, a DeWitt County resident who owns a home that will be surrounded by the industrial turbines if the project is built.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in DeWitt County, lists the county of DeWitt, the DeWitt County Board and each of the 12 board members as defendants, in addition to Alta Farms and Tradewind Energy. Hinshaw and Culbertson LLP in Rockford will handle the case.
Tom Swierczewski, senior development director at Tradewind Energy, an Enel Green Power company, and project manager of Alta Farms II said the company is also aware of the lawsuit.
“Since the project was proposed nearly 10 years ago, Alta Farms II has enjoyed the strong support of many local residents who have repeatedly stood up for new jobs and economic growth in DeWitt County,” he said. “While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we look forward to building a first-rate wind farm that will benefit the entire community.”
Klemm though, is hoping the lawsuit will stop the company from moving forward.
“I think we have a very strong case and so does our attorney,” Klemm said. “I think we are sitting in a spot where our cause for filing a lawsuit is strong and justified and I am confident about that. The ZBA warned the county board in its conclusion and this is really something we were trying to avoid.
In April 2019, the board rejected Tradewind Energy’s first application, after board members criticized it for not being complete and having too many unanswered questions. One board member, Cole Ritter, whose abstention from the April 2019 vote because of a conflict of interest had in effect counted as a vote against the project, but he did not attend the July meeting. Ritter lives in the district where the project is planned. None of the other board members changed their vote, but with Ritter’s absence, the vote passed.
“The constituents certainly don’t want to do this, but when the county made some irresponsible decisions and protected Tradewind instead of the county residents, we were simply left with no choice,” Klemm said.
County Board Chairman Dave Newberg said he was aware of the lawsuit.
“I really don’t have any details or anything on it yet,” he said. “I just know it was filed.”
Construction could begin next spring on the wind farm, the county’s first, though several procedural steps remain before the project can get underway, including the issuance of building permits. That could prove more difficult, depending on the results of next month’s election, as six seats are being contested.