CLINTON – Fourteen of 15 building permits for the DeWitt County wind farm that were contested in a lawsuit were issued the same day a judge gave the zoning administrator three days to decide to issue or deny them.
Sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jason Bohm said the DeWitt County Board “lacked the legal authority” to stop the issuance of building permits “because a county board has ‘no power to suspend, even temporarily, their own ordinances.’”
The DeWitt County Board narrowly voted July 22 to stop issuing building permits for the county’s first wind farm until Alta Farms’ parent company Enel Green Power could show to the board its permission to comply with curtailing the wind turbines during severe weather.
Alta Farms filed a mandamus lawsuit nearly three weeks later against DeWitt County and DeWitt County Zoning Administrator Dee Dee Rentmeister demanding 15 building permits.
Rentmeister told The Pantagraph Thursday that 14 of the 15 permits were issued “late” Wednesday afternoon, the same day Bohm rendered his decision.
She said the last building permit of the 15 named in the lawsuit should be issued before the judge’s Sept. 13 deadline, but that she’s “waiting for a review letter from our engineering firm that we hired to help us with the process.”
In an affidavit, Rentmeister said she had not issued permits solely because of the county board’s July 22 vote.
Five additional building permits are expected to be issued soon, she said, but those also are pending review from the county’s engineering firm.
DeWitt County Board Chairman Terry Ferguson, who voted against the temporary halt of issuing building permits, said he was “not surprised by the decision.”
“That was the decision I was expecting,” Ferguson said. “The county board took an action that was against the advice of the state’s attorney and we just got to live with the outcome now.”
The judge wrote that the DeWitt County Zoning ordinances require the zoning administrator to review applications and issue or deny them. He said Alta Farms complied with the permit applications and fees.
“The only question in this case is whether the County Board has the authority to prohibit, as they did on July 22, 2021, the Zoning Administrator from issuing building permits. The answer to that question is no,” Bohm wrote, citing case law which affirmed that existing ordinances can’t be modified by a resolution or motion.
The 200-megawatt wind farm, approved on a 6-5 vote by the DeWitt County Board in July 2020, will consist of 66 turbines in three northwestern townships near Waynesville and Wapella.
Thirty building permits had been issued prior to Alta Farms filing the lawsuit, meaning 44 permits have been issued so far with six more likely to be issued within days.
Chicago lawyer James Griffin, who represented Alta Farms in the lawsuit, could not be immediately reached for comment.
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