CLINTON — A judge has ruled the county has no authority to withhold building permits from the Enel Green Energy Alta Farms II wind energy project.
In his ruling issued this week, Sixth Circuit Court Judge Jason Bohm ordered the DeWitt County Zoning Administrator to process the 15 permit applications in question by September 13.
County board members voting in July to suspend further building permits for Alta Farms II said the action was to force the developer Enel Green Energy to prove it could shut down wind turbines during periods of severe weather, a process known as “curtailment.”
A second vote taken on August 19 to resume issuance of permits ended in a tie with one abstention. Two board members were absent from that meeting.
Enel was suing the county, asking the court to order a resumption of building permits. The county issued about 30 building permits for the project before the board suspended the issuance of any more. About 26 permits still remain to be issued, including about a half-dozen that require drainage district approval.
Anti-wind project activists claim Enel has not provided evidence it could shut down wind turbines quickly during tornado warnings to prevent interference with weather radar or that the company has permission to do so from authorities.
In his ruling Judge Bohm wrote there “was no dispute that Alta Farms has submitted all the required fees, information and documentation for the Zoning Administrator to complete her review of the permit applications.”
Bohm also wrote the only question in the case was whether the county board had the authority to prohibit the zoning administrator from issuing building permits.
“The answer to that question is ‘no’,” Bohm wrote.
He wrote that units of local government must follow their own ordinances and those ordinances could be altered only through ‘the strict compliance with the requirements of Illinois law.”
“In this case, the county board did not amend the ordinances,” Bohm wrote. “Instead, it simply passed a motion prohibiting the zoning administrator from fulfilling her obligations under existing DeWitt County ordinances …”
Bohm ruled the county board did not have the legal authority to take the action because a county board has “no power to suspend, even temporarily, their own ordinances.” He wrote the county already had the power to fine the wind energy company as part of its special use permit conditions, “but it was not entitled to interfere with the existing building permit obligations of the zoning administrator.”
He added, “Nothing in the record suggests that building permits for new turbines can be premised on the curtailment compliance of existing turbines.”
Bohm directed the county zoning administrator to process the 15 building permit applications to make her final decision on those permits.