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Wind shift ahead in Lee County?

Top-ranking members back plan; most on board yet to take stand

Published: Saturday, May 18, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Sunday, May 19, 2013 8:50 p.m. CST

DIXON – A third of Lee County Board members have taken a stand on the controversial proposal for a wind farm in the county’s southwestern corner.

The rest either are undecided or haven’t returned Sauk Valley Media’s calls for comment. The 24-member board will vote on the wind farm Tuesday.

Now, the two highest-ranking board members favor the wind farm, but want its approval subject to conditions.

Last month, Chairman Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy, came out in favor of the project a day after the county’s zoning board voted 3-2 to reject it.

On Friday, Vice Chairman John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove, publicly joined Ketchum and two other members in supporting Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power’s proposed wind farm. But both Ketchum and Nicholson said the county should impose a number of conditions.

The two leaders agree the county’s usual requirement that turbines be at least 1,400 feet from homes is not strict enough.

“The 1,400-foot setback is antiquated because of the size of the turbines now,” Nicholson said.

Opponents of wind farms complain about noise and shadow flicker from turbines, and say they affect the rural character of the area. Supporters, however, point out that wind farms bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars more in property tax revenue.

Last year, the zoning board recommended a stricter ordinance for wind turbines, but a County Board majority rejected it.

“There is a group of us who feel we can get certain parameters within the [proposed] ordinance,” Nicholson said. “Mainstream has agreed to comply with the majority of it.”

In its decision, the zoning board noted that Mainstream had yet to to turn in a plan to take down the turbines after the project ends.

Nicholson said Mainstream is working on a decommissioning plan.

“Wind farms don’t want to make bad neighbors,” he said. “They go out of their way to do what we want them to do.”

Other members contacted Friday said they had yet to make a decision.

“I’m still on the fence,” said Bill Palen, R-Dixon. “I’m getting a lot of letters and telephone calls. I’m trying to weigh the issues.”

Bob Gibler, R-Dixon, said he is “digesting” a lot of information. He, too, said he had been receiving many messages about the issue.

Wes Morrissey, D-Amboy, said he probably would remain undecided until “pretty close” before the vote. He said he had meetings planned with constituents.

While Tim Deem, R-Dixon, puts himself in the undecided category, he said he is leaning for the wind farm. He plans to meet with the project’s opponents Monday.

“A lot of them [wind farm opponents] say they don’t want us to consider just the money,” Deem said. “They say we should look at quality of life issues. But sometimes it takes money to have your health, safety and quality of life. Hopefully, we can make an informed decision.”

The wind farm’s opponents, meanwhile, are campaigning hard to get board members to vote no. They’ve been writing letters to the editor, and on Friday, a group calling itself Citizens Committed to Responsible Lee County Wind Energy Policy criticized Mainstream’s project.

Mainstream’s 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 planned to submit a new plan.

How they'll vote

How do Lee County Board members plan to vote on Mainstream Renewable Power's proposed wind farm?

For

Rick Ketchum, D-Amboy*

John Nicholson, R-Franklin Grove*

Ann Taylor, R-Amboy

Marvin Williams, R-Dixon

Against

Vern Gottel, R-rural Sterling

David Gusse, R-Dixon

Marilyn Shippert, R-Dixon

Judy Truckenbrod, R-West Brooklyn

Undecided

Dick Binder, R-Compton

Bernie Buckley, R-Dixon

Tim Deem, R-Dixon

Bob Gibler, R-Dixon

Steve Kitzman, R-Dixon

Gerald Leffelman, R-Sublette

Isaac Mercer, D-Dixon

Wes Morrissey, D-Amboy

Bill Palen, R-Dixon

Didn't return calls for comment

Allyn Buhrow, R-Ashton

Kasey Considine, R-Amboy

Tom Kitson, R-Dixon

Arlan McClain, R-Dixon

Jim Wentling, R-Dixon

Greg Witzleb, R-Dixon

* Supports wind farm with conditions.

NOTE: The County Board has 24 members. One position was left vacant with the recent resignation of David Chandler, R-Dixon.

To attend

The Lee County Board will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday on the third floor of the Old Lee County Courthouse, 112 E. Second St. in Dixon.

The board is expected to consider a wind farm in the southwestern part of the county.

For an agenda for this meeting, minutes from past meetings, or more information, go to www.countyoflee.org or call 815-288-5676.

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