DIXON – After several months on the back burner, the Lee County Board Monday approved an extension for the Green River wind energy project, which involves building dozens of turbines across about 13,500 acres in Lee and Whiteside counties.
Mainstream Renewable Energy began developing the wind farm in 2009. Geronimo Energy, which acquired the project in December 2013, was given a 3-year extension for the special-use permits required to build the turbines, which were set to expire this month.
The vote was 14-9.
With the county projecting a possible deficit next year, board member Arlan McClain said they need to be mindful of generating more revenue sources, and the wind farm could help provide additional income for the county.
“We don’t have an expense problem, we have a revenue problem,” McClain said.
Geronimo attorney Doug Lee said the development would bring an equalized assessed valuation north of $20 million.
“If the Green River project is built, it would be by far the largest taxpayer in the county,” Lee said.
Before the vote, board member Marilyn Shippert said members should honor the recommendation the county zoning board gave them 3 years ago to reject the wind farm construction.
“I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again, again and again,” she said. “We are overruling the wisdom of our zoning board.”
The zoning board made its recommendation after 10 months of study and 32 meetings. In May 2013, the County Board went against that ruling, voting 12-9 in favor of the wind farm.
She said she understands that the county is strained for revenue, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the county’s residents.
Walnut resident Ronald Vonholten spoke against the wind farm development, warning of negative effects to residents’ quality of life and property value.
“Our family farm is right in the footprint of this,” he said. “These things are no good; they ruin our property value.”
The project has been stalled for 3 years by delays from litigation and state law.
In July 2013, 60 residents sued Lee County and Mainstream, citing challenges including nonconforming land-use issues, the turbines’ effect on property values, and concerns about noise and shadow flicker.
Last summer, the state enacted a new law that requires an agriculture impact mitigation agreement between developers and the state’s agriculture department to be in place before permitting is extended.
Also Monday, the board voted 18-5 to reject a proposal to extend 50 percent tax abatements to UPM Raflatac for the next 4 years, which would have saved the label stock company $144,000.
In 2006, the company and the county had a memorandum of understanding that entailed 10 years of tax incentives, but the county never signed off on it.
According to state statue, the county cannot award tax incentives to Raflatac without there being an increase of staff or a facility expansion, Assistant State’s Attorney Heather Darsie said.
She presented the board with an agreement stating that Raflatac would receive the 4-year abatement if they hire and maintain one additional staff member, but “they’re not agreeing to hire another person, as far as I can tell,” she said.
The memorandum of understanding was based on Raflatac maintaining about 160 employees, and it now has between 90 and 100, so board member Allyn Buhrow said he was opposed to the proposal.
“The incentive was for an estimate of 150 or 160 employees, and they are a ways off from that,” Buhrow said. “I can’t see how this makes good sense to do.”
In other action, the board:
• Discussed allowing utility task vehicles on county roads.
• Approved hiring two more correctional officers at the Lee County Jail.
• Approved a resolution against the Great Lakes Basin Rail project.
• Tabled revisions to the county’s flood damage prevention ordinance.
• Discussed purchasing solid waste recycling containers at a cost not to exceed $50,000.
The Lee County Board next meets at 9 a.m. June 21 in the third-floor boardroom of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. 2nd St.
The agenda will be posted at leecountyil.com 2 days before the meeting.