CLINTON – The DeWitt County Board will have a new look when it reorganizes next month – and that could spell some trouble for the recently approved Alta Farms II wind farm project.
The $300 million project was approved 6-5 in July, with one board member, Cole Ritter, not attending the meeting because of a conflict of interest with the project.
Ritter lost his bid to retain his seat in the March primary, finishing last in a four-person race for three spots on the ballot. On Tuesday, his seat and three others were filled by newcomers, each endorsed by opponents of the wind farm and running on platforms against the project.
During construction of the wind farm slated for completion next year, a number of conditions and plans must still be approved by the full board, which now includes Aaron Kammeyer, Buck Carter, Jamie Prestegaard, and Megan Myers. Scott Nimmo, Camille Redman and Lance Reece, who all voted in favor of the project in July, will lose their seats.
“I think the residents have sent a resounding vote of no confidence in how the board has currently conducted business as it relates to this wind project in the last two general elections,” Kammeyer said. “It’s time we start to listen to our constituents as a whole and act as servant leaders of our residents. We need to ensure that not only is the economic opportunities for the county a factor in our decision, but we are also considering our residents safety, that our first responders are trained to deal with issues pertaining to the wind farm, and that the county is not left with a financial burden long after the wind farm development is over.”
“The citizens of DeWitt County overwhelmingly voted to bring change to the County Board,” said Andrea Rhoades, a DeWitt County resident and vocal opponent of the wind farm. “The incumbents could not hide from how they ignored the best interest of their constituents or their blatant disregard of their own zoning ordinances by approving the Alta II wind farm special use permit.”
Representatives from Enel Energy, owners of the wind farm, declined comment.
Each turbine must have a building permit. Building permits are not approved by the county board though; only by the zoning officer. These permits must also have all the necessary information as required by the conditions of the special use permit.
The vote in July reversed an earlier decision by the board, which voted 6-5 with one abstention to deny the special use permit for the project in April 2019. Board members cited the application was incomplete. The developers re-submitted an application, but still drew the same criticism.
“It was and is still an incomplete application and should not have been moved forward by the present board,” Carter said.
Board Chairman Dave Newberg retained his seat, but is likely to face a challenge for the chairman’s seat when the board re-organizes next month.
The board and the wind farm developers also face a challenge in the courts. So far, two lawsuits have been filed, including one by the Village of Wapella seeking an injunction to stop the construction of the project, and the other by opponents of the project. Court dates have not yet been set.
“I am in agreement with our advisory boards that the special use permit application submitted by the developer does not meet the requirements set forth in our wind ordinance and feel it should not have been approved,” Myers said. “How we move ahead may be determined by the pending litigation.”
Prestegaard agree that pending litigation may determine the next steps of the Alta II Farms wind project.
“The passing of an incomplete special use permit application back in July sends a message to others that our county’s ordinances do not need to be strictly followed,” he said.