DIXON – The Lee County Board on Tuesday voted 12-9 to allow a controversial wind farm, overruling a decision last month by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The board approved the project, along with a number of conditions dealing with issues such as noise.
In April, the zoning board voted 3-2 against the proposal from Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power.
At Tuesday's Lee County Board meeting, the audience was almost evenly divided between the wind farm's supporters and opponents, taking their own sides of the audience gallery.
On Friday, an attorney for the opponents contended the County Board needed a three-fourths majority to allow the wind farm. Hamilton Township had filed a written objection, which, the attorney said, triggered the supermajority requirement.
However, Matt Klahn, an assistant state's attorney for Lee County, said he researched the issue and found the three-fourths rule didn't apply to special-use permits, which Mainstream was seeking.
Mainstream plans 53 turbines for the county's southwestern corner.
Its proposal is part of a three-county wind farm, which includes Whiteside and Bureau counties. Last year, Whiteside County approved nine turbines, while Bureau County's zoning panel recommended against Mainstream's plan for 19 turbines, saying it didn't meet the county's requirements.
Mainstream withdrew its proposal in Bureau County, saying it would submit a new plan.
'The most intrusive special use we provide'
After the wind farm proposal came up at Tuesday's meeting, member Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon, moved to approve the petition with a number of conditions. He received the written conditions from board Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, who drafted them.
They call for a new study on the wind turbines' noise and shadow flicker effects and an engineer's certification on the towers' design. They also required Mainstream to put aside $40,000 over 15 years for each turbine, to pay for taking them down if the project ends.
During the Lee County Board's debate Tuesday, member Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon, said it would be an insult to the zoning board to overrule its decision.
Others agreed, noting the panel had 27 sessions as part of the hearing on the project.
Member Tim Deem, R-Dixon, noted the project would bring jobs and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue for school districts and other entities.
He also said he had gone by wind turbines and found noise and shadow flicker weren't the problems critics say they are.
Allyn Buhrow, R-Ashton, said it was inappropriate to bring up money in making a zoning decision. Rather, he said, the purpose should be to protect the public's health and safety.
Buhrow called wind turbines "the most intrusive special use we provide."
Dick Binder, R-Compton, counted 23 landowners who have agreed to have Mainstream's wind turbines on their properties and 196 non-participating landowners in the project's footprint.
"Many of the 23 are absentee landowners who will not suffer the effects," Binder said. "For those who are looking at dollar signs, are those dollars a wise trade-off for 196 residents of this area who will be adversely affected for years to come?"
'This is good news for us'
After the roll call was taken, the audience's reaction was subdued. During the public comment period, a number of people criticized the board.
Rick Porter, the attorney representing opponents, said he was disappointed in the decision, but called for a moratorium on new wind farms.
He said the county's ordinance on wind farms was "antiquated," urging the board to update it.
Bob Logan of Franklin Grove said the non-participating residents are the victims who have to come up with the money to fight wind farms.
"From the beginning, you have been in bed with wind companies," he told the board.
Matt Boss, Mainstream's vice president of development and operations, said outside the meeting that his company would reflect on the county's decision and determine its next step.
"This is good news for us," he said.
How they voted
Here's how Lee County Board members voted on the proposed Mainstream wind farm:
Kasey Considine, D-Amboy
Tim Deem, R-Dixon
Steve Kitzman, R-Dixon
Isaac Mercer, D-Dixon
Wes Morrissey, D-Amboy
John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove
Bill Palen, R-Dixon
Ann Taylor, R-Amboy
Jim Wentling, R-Dixon
Marvin Williams, R-Dixon
Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon
Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy
Bob Gibler, R-Dixon
David Gusse, R-Dixon
Dick Binder, R-Dixon
Allyn Buhrow, R-Ashton
Judy Truckenbrod, R-West Brooklyn
Jerry Leffelman, R-Sublette
Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon
Vern Gottel, R-rural Sterling
Bernie Buckley, R-Dixon
Tom Kitson, R-Dixon
Arlan McClain, R-Dixon
Note: The 24-member board has one vacancy, with the recent resignation of David Chandler, R-Dixon.