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In this case, annoying is good

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4:23 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4:48 p.m. CDT

The meetings of the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals have been long. Over 4 nights, the board met for more than 10 hours to establish findings of fact on a proposed wind farm – about 20 times as long as it took for previous projects.

Now, the board will set conditions for the wind farm proposed by Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power.

Before that decision-making process, the board held 27 hearings, taking about 70 hours.

The company has proposed 53 turbines in southwestern Lee County, which is part of a controversial three-county project.

Once Mainstream gets its approvals, it likely will sell the project to another company. That has happened in every other case in the United States, including with the Shady Oaks project near Compton in Lee County.

The groundwork is extensive and requires much expertise – and, as such, has a lot of value. That's why Mainstream finds buyers for its projects.

The company has made plenty of statements and promises during the hearings, but it has never said it actually would operate the proposed wind farm, known as Green River.

In the Shady Oaks case, Mainstream sold to Goldwind USA, a subsidiary of a Chinese company. That upset many people. While no one seemed to care that Mainstream is an Irish firm, plenty complained about Goldwind's Chinese ownership.

As long as the hearings have been, they have been manageable. At the beginning of this latest process, the zoning board selected retired Whiteside County Judge Tim Slavin to get paid to serve as the board's chairman pro tem. Before that, he was the facilitator for Mainstream's hearings in Lee and Whiteside counties. The company ends up paying for Slavin's services.

As a retired judge, Slavin is used to running the show. At the beginning of the latest meetings, the board approved a set of ground rules, which, among other things, requires members to address their comments to the chairman. Debates are limited to each member speaking no more than twice on a particular motion, unless the board votes to extend discussion.

The requirement that members stand when they're making motions dropped by the wayside. But other than that, Slavin has been a stickler for the rules – to the point of becoming annoying. But the annoyances have been effective, keeping the meetings on point.

When one member made a point at a recent meeting, another shot back, "That's not true." Slavin chided the member, saying all comments should be addressed to the chairman. He warned that if he didn't insist on such rules, the meetings would quickly deteriorate.

He's right. When members of a board start talking over one another and make the same points again and again, they lose control. And the process stalls.

You don't necessarily need to bring a retired judge to the process. (Slavin does just fine without the extra money, getting $155,508 a year from his government pension.) But you need someone who is not afraid to annoy people to make them follow the rules. Judges often fit that bill.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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