The Morgan County Commissioners meeting was full of tension this morning. The meeting was moved to the second floor main courtroom to accommodate the large showing of Morgan County residents who were wanting to get their final words in for the drafting of the wind ordinance for the county. The meeting started after a 6 minute delay to the near capacity crowd of near-standing room only in the courtroom to hear the vote and the final debate on the wind ordinance.
Chairman Bradley Zeller announced that the agenda for the meeting had shifted public comment to the front of the meeting after approval of the agenda and the minutes due to the nature of the upcoming vote. The crowd heard from 14 speakers from the community. Karlis Povisils of Apex Clean Energy made one of the biggest announcements in the early portion of the public comment section. Povisils said that Apex had made a commitment of a half mile setback from the community despite the community being an unincorporated township.
Dusty Douglas of the Regional Economic Planning Commision explains why it was good for the company to reach an agreement with the township. “We are operating under the WECS provision of the state statutes. We’re not a zoned county. Otherwise, we could do some things that would further help the issues of setbacks. Right now, there have been some discussions away from the planning commission and away from the ordinance between unincorporated Alexander and the village as well as Apex. Hopefully they will have some setbacks from the community that everyone will be happy with.”
Joana Ramsey, MacMurray College Professor of Sports Management and resident of Alexander, expressed her deep displeasure and what she called a lack of leadership by the board by not answering a petition addressed to the board by the residents of Alexander about the setbacks and protections for the community. Ramsey collected the signatures and said that she had made it a personal mission to represent the simple folks of her community so they could have a voice in the ordinance.
Kyle Berry, attorney for Apex Clean Energy, applauded the board for the diligence in completion of the ordinace. “Today, compared to 13 or 14 years ago, there are over 2600 wind turbines and individual machines operating in the State of Illinois. By the end of next year, I anticipate that there will be, if not more, than 3000 wind turbines operating. Just for example, right now there are new projects under construction in Logan County. I have to say that I appreciate the board’s hard work that they’ve done and put into the design of this ordinance. It’s taken a lot of effort and a lot of thought. I’ve worked with other wind ordinances in other counties in Central Illinois. This one includes a lot more details. Some of those details I don’t necessarily agree with or think are necessary. I think it’s a credit to the board in working with their counsel to include those details that do provide more protections for landowners more than the existing ordinance [from 2009].”
Douglas said that the new draft of the ordinance took some special provisions into account looking towards the future – especially when it came to being a visual nuisance. “We feel like that we tried to incorporate the technology – the latest and the greatest that we have right now – as well as keeping an eye to the future. There are some things that we feel like are on the horizon that as an aircraft enters an area, the light beacons will come on during the day as people go about their business. There will be very little lighting intrusion. I think it will be a good thing for everyone involved because that’s a very legitimate concern.”
However, the opposition was drawn in a line down the center of the courtroom. Arguments about setbacks from the property line instead of the foundation; to property values; to even the wording of the document itself were under scrutiny. Betty Niemann, a long-standing opponent to the wind ordinance, asked State’s Attorney Gray Noll to step in at one point due to typos and missing verbiage in the current ordinance. Mike Woodyard, the leader of the Ad Hoc Citizens For Property Rights, and Vickie Kindred two of opponents also said the documents forces landowners out. Kindred believes that the commissioners no longer work for the citizens of Morgan County.
Woodyward went even further. “They say that a person has a right to enjoy their property all the way to the property line. If I had a septic tank in my yard, it’s my right to have a septic tank but if it bleeds over across my property line into my neighbor’s yard, you wouldn’t even think of considering it as being not intrusive. Once again, I urge to please – we’re not on a time line here – to take another week, another two weeks, to change the language in the setbacks and make sure it’s the property line of a home. It’s not going to change the majority of the ground. If the developer is willing to give Alexander a half-mile setback, put it in your ordinance. Make those 2 changes. I think down deep in your heart you know it’s wrong to make [the setback] from the foundation of my home.”
After over an hour of public comment on the ordinance finished, the commissioners asked for clarification on some of the typos which Douglas acknowledged and said would be corrected once the ordinance was voted upon today. The board then proceeded through their new business approving both bills and payroll. They also approved a delinquent property tax parcel to be re-enlisted to the property tax payroll after the owner had paid all back taxes, fines, and fees. The board then voted on the ordinance. Chairman Bradley Zeller recused himself from the final vote saying he did not want it to appear as an act of impropriety. A call from in the crowd yelled “coward” before the motion passed 2-0 with Bill Meier and Ginny Fanning both voting in favor of the ordinance.
Representatives of Apex Clean Energy said they would be sending their wind farm proposal to the board once they had ample time to complete their plans.