8/3/08 BELIEVE IT OR NOT: What happens when Wind Developers tell Tazewell County board members to ignore the Attorney General?
BELIEVE IT OR NOT!
In several parts of Wisconsin questions are already being raised and about troubling ties between wind developers and elected officials. Wisconsin is not alone. There are questions being raised all over the country. It's a common practice for wind developers to start by getting very friendly with town and county board members before they go into the rest of the community. It's common for wind developers to offer board members lucrative contracts to host turbines long before any ordinances are written to protect the residents.
The Attorney General of New York State has begun an investigation into the questionable practices of wind developers and certain elected officials -including the use of eminent domain. And according to the following story, Illinois may not be far behind. Once wind developers have the elected officials in their pockets and their foot in the door-- anything can happen. Including ignoring the law.
Tazewell County Board members approved the expansion of a tax-free enterprise zone to benefit a wind power company, despite the county’s top law enforcement official telling them to wait.
Tazewell County State’s Attorney Stuart Umholtz said at the board meeting Wednesday night that he has asked Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to deliver an opinion on the enterprise zone’s expansion.
A company called Horizon Wind Energy has requested that Tazewell County and the City of Pekin expand their enterprise zone by providing a connecting strip 24 miles long and 3 feet wide. The strip would extend from the existing enterprise zone out to the southern-most area of Tazewell county and connect to 38 wind turbine sites.
Umholtz asked board members to at least wait until Madigan issues an opinion before recognizing the 3-foot strip as contiguous. New enterprise zones cannot be created and the expansion of an existing one must be contiguous.
“Respect the rule of law,” Umholtz told board members. He said that during his career as state’s attorney, he has never before delivered a memorandum to board members advising them that they are doing something wrong.
Horizon Director of Development Bill Whitlock addressed the board Wednesday night in response to Umholtz’s advice. “It would have an impact on the wind farm,” Whitlock said, when a board member asked what would happen if the enterprise zone was not expanded for Horizon. “It would have a serious, negative impact on the project.”
Whitlock later addressed the board, saying that numerous enterprise zones have been expanded in a similar way throughout the state. “I don’t see why you need to wait for the attorney general to rule on this one,” he said.
Board member Russell Crawford motioned that the board table the issue until they receive Madigan’s opinion. That motion failed.
Businesses that are built within the enterprise zone are allowed a 100 percent property tax abatement for five years. They also get a sales tax break from the state on materials purchased in the state of Illinois for the project.
Horizon has given the county a “side letter,” stating that they will not seek abatement from property taxes, nor will they seek abatement from permit fees. In exchange for the expansion of the enterprise zone, Horizon will give the county $230,00 and Pekin will get $150,000.
Ultimately, a majority of the board members voted to approve the ordinance regarding the expansion of the enterprise zone, and approved an intergovernmental agreement with Pekin to do so. The board also voted to approve the side letter concerning Horizon’s stance on property tax abatement and permit fees.
Board members Crawford, Michael Godar, Jan Donahue, and Michael Harris voted against the three motions.
As Crawford exited the meeting, he apologized to Umholtz. “The arrogance of this county board is at a level of un-acceptance,” he said as he left the building.
Whitlaock told a reporter that Horizon still must meet a number of conditions required by the county, before applying for special use permits for the project.
By Nick Vogel
Times Staff Writer
NOTE FROM THE BPRC RESEARCH NERD: We've been following the story of a family's lawsuit against a wind farm because of turbine noise. They're gone back to court. Here is a July 2008 video update. What this family has to say about the noise from turbines in the fall and winter when the winds are blowing hard enough to generate electricity is echoed by families who have contacted us from Fond Du Lac county in our own state. Until the wind developers and elected officials take people's welfare into consideration when siting industrial turbines, these stories will continue to multiply.