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Wind farm company sues DeWitt County

Audience members in opposition to the Alta Farms II project in DeWitt County listen as the county’s board holds an outdoor meeting Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in downtown Clinton.
JEFF SMUDDE, PANTAGRAPH FILE PHOTO

CLINTON – The wind energy company constructing DeWitt County’s first wind farm is suing the county and its zoning administrator over accusations of “withholding” of building permits.

The mandamus lawsuit filed in the 6th Judicial Circuit Court this month by Alta Farms Wind Project II LLC names acting DeWitt County Zoning Administrator Dee Dee Rentmeister in her official capacity and DeWitt County as defendants.

Alta Farms said in court documents that DeWitt County has “no legal or factual basis … to refuse to issue the building permits for these wind turbines.”

A defendants’ answer filed Tuesday by Northbrook defense lawyer Lance Neylan admitted the county has not yet issued additional permits, but denied wrongdoing. The lawsuit was filed nearly three weeks after the DeWitt County Board voted to suspend issuance of building permits for the wind farm.

Neylan and Chicago lawyer James Griffin, who is representing Alta Farms, could not be reached for comment. The DeWitt County Administrator’s and Zoning Administrator’s offices could not be reached for comment.

Download PDF: Alta Farms Wind Project II v. DeWitt County and the DeWitt County Zoning Administrator

The DeWitt County Board approved the 200-megawatt wind farm project July 14, 2020 on a 6-5 vote in front of about 250 people, including many who opposed the project. The plan called for constructing 66 turbines in three northwestern townships near Waynesville and Wapella.

Alta Farms applied for building permits for 57 turbines Nov. 5, of which 30 permits were issued.

The lawsuit requests 15 additional permits to be issued.

The DeWitt County Board narrowly voted July 22 to suspend issuance of building permits until Alta Farms’ parent company Enel Green Power shows the board its permission from power companies to automatically slow or stop the turbines during severe weather.

Curtailing the turbines could reduce interference with Doppler radar during thunderstorms and tornadoes.

Alta Farms said in the lawsuit that it will continue to “suffer each day until such permits are issued” and the “refusal to issue” permits has caused substantial damages resulting from construction delays.

The defendants denied that it has caused suffering, damages and delays, and also denied that Alta Farms “has a clear right to the issuance” of the permits, according to their written response to the lawsuit.

Alta Farms’ filing this month comes as the project has already looped through legal battles.

About five months ago, two lawsuits against Enel Green Power North America were dismissed by a DeWitt County judge.

Those lawsuits were filed by 69 constituents opposing the project and also named DeWitt County, the DeWitt County Board and each of its members at the time as defendants in attempt to stop the project from progressing. The lawsuits were withdrawn within five months of them being filed.

Alta Farms Wind Project II, LLC is based in Lenexa, Kansas and is a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based Enel Green Power North America Inc., a subsidiary of Italy-based Enel Green Power.