CLINTON — Attorneys for a group of 69 DeWitt County residents filed a lawsuit this week against the county and Enel Energy, owner of a planned wind energy project in northwest DeWitt County.
The county board voted 6-5 this summer to approve a special use permit for the project. The plan has faced serious opposition through two series of public hearings leading to a final vote by the county board.
The suit was filed this week in DeWitt County Circuit Court by Hinshaw and Culbertson, the Rockford law firm representing the group opposed to the wind development.
At the core of the suit is essentially the claim by the plaintiffs the county board failed to follow its own wind energy ordinance in granting the special use permit. Those opposed to the project feel the county board did not follow the ordinance by failing to require a complete decommissioning plan before issuing the permit, among other points. At what point the decommissioning plan should be submitted was a sore point among board members on opposite sides of the issue.
Residents opposed to the plan are also concerned about the project’s possible effect on property values and health in the vicinity of the wind project and the project’s potential interference with weather radar.
Olivia Klemm, a resident living within the area of the planned wind project and a spokesperson for the plaintiffs, told the Journal she felt it was unfortunate a lawsuit was necessary.
“It was something we tried to avoid,” Klemm said. “The ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) gave the same warning to county board and spelled out their concerns; so did the RPC (Regional Planning Commission) and an attorney that represented the residents.”
Klemm said the effects caused by a wind farm were “very real.”
A potential of $1million a year in tax revenue for the local school district has been touted as a major factor for building the wind project. But, many people opposing the project question if the payoff is worth the possible risks.
“To what extent are people’s lives worth empty promises,” Klemm said. “That’s what we’re really talking about here.”
Experts on both sides of the issue testified about the level of risk on weather radar posed by the wind project, as well as whether such projects affect property values and health. There also has been significant debate between county board members about whether the board followed the county ordinance in approving the special use permit
Representatives for the Alta Farms II project have maintained they followed all the requirements of the ordinance in their application for the permit.
“Since the project was proposed nearly 10 years ago, Alta Farms II has enjoyed the strong support of many local residents who have repeatedly stood up for new jobs and economic growth in DeWitt County. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, we look forward to building a first-rate wind farm that will benefit the entire community,” said Matt Epting, media relations manager for Enel Energy.