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Woman: ‘We were handcuffed’

No proof that county notified family about wind farm project

Published: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Dec. 31, 2012 1:05 p.m. CST

WEST BROOKLYN – Margina Schwartzbach says there was a reason she never objected beforehand to a planned wind turbine next to her home: No one told her about it.

The West Brooklyn woman says she found out about it when the project started – more than a year after the county approved it.

Schwartzbach said she issued a public records request for proof that the county had sent her notice of the turbine planned for the farm next to her home. The county failed to produce any, she said.

Sauk Valley Media also asked for documentation that the county had sent certified letters to adjoining landowners to Turbine 53, the one next to Schwartzbach’s property.

In his response, Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel said he couldn’t find evidence but that he would continue to look.

Sauk Valley Media also asked to see proof that notices had been sent to adjoining landowners of two other turbines in the 72-turbine project – known as Shady Oaks. For those turbines, the county sent notices to seven adjoining landowners.

Landowners got notices in 2007, before the zoning process began.

It’s unclear why the county didn’t inform anyone about Turbine 59. Henkel didn’t return a call for comment Friday, but he told Sauk Valley Media earlier that he would look through his files to see whether Schwartzbach was sent a notice.

State law requires 15 days’ notice to adjoining landowners before hearings to consider zoning changes. As is the case elsewhere, Lee and Whiteside counties take the extra step of sending certified letters.

In June 2010, the County Board voted 26-1 for the wind farm. Then, the developer was Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power. In 2011, the company sold its interest to Goldwind USA, a subsidiary of a Chinese company.

Schwartzbach is unhappy she wasn’t notified. She said she and her husband detest the turbine’s noise. It is 1,400 feet from their home, the minimum distance allowed under the county’s agreement with the wind energy company.

She said she found out about the wind turbine in October 2011, when a crew was building a road to the turbine site.

“I came home from work, and my husband said, ‘I guess they’re going to put a wind turbine next to our house,’” Schwartzbach said. “We were handcuffed. There was nothing we could do.”

The wind farm went online in June.

Not long afterward, Schwartzbach said, she called Henkel about the noise problem. He said he would call the company, she said, but he never got back with her. Schwartzbach also said she contacted the company, but got no satisfaction.

Goldwind has offered to pay for a third-party sound impact study for Schwartzbach, said Colin Mahoney, a company spokesman.

“Goldwind will continue to work with the county and neighbors to ensure ongoing responsiveness to concerns,” Mahoney said in a statement.

Now, Schwartzbach said she is trying to find out whether other landowners didn’t get notice from the county. She doesn’t believe the failure to notify her family was an oversight, but a result of the rush to get the project done.

“I want to see how big the problem was,” she said. “Was it just my wind turbine, or were there others who weren’t notified? Were others’ rights being violated?

“I’ll keep plugging away at this.”

Hearings this week

The Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals will meet from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St.

The board is having hearings on Mainstream Renewable Power's proposal for 53 wind turbines in southwestern Lee County.

For an agenda for these meetings, minutes from past meetings or more information, go to www.leecountyil.com or call 815-288-5676.

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