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Lee County sued over wind turbine

WEST BROOKLYN – Years ago, Lee County’s zoning board decided a proposed wind farm would have no effect on the character of the neighborhood.

A West Brooklyn couple disagrees.

Last month, Margina and Larry Schwartzbach filed a lawsuit against Lee County and Goldwind USA, the subsidiary of a Chinese company. They contend the county gave them no notice about the proposed wind farm, which, they say, has disrupted their quality of life.

The Shady Oaks project started operating in June in southern Lee County, near the villages of Compton and West Brooklyn.

In December, Margina Schwartzbach spoke during a meeting of the Lee County Zoning Board of Appeals, at which the panel was considering another wind farm in the southern part of the county. A turbine near their house, she said, was a constant bother.

“It’s very annoying,” Schwartzbach told the board. “It produces loud humming sounds.”

At night, she said, it’s unbearable.

“We turn on the TV to drown it out, so we can fall asleep,” Schwartzbach said. “We don’t hear the crickets at night or birds in the morning.”

They said they found out about the wind farm when construction started in October 2011. One turbine is 1,400 feet to the west of their home, the minimum distance the county allows.

Schwartzbach said she constantly called the county and the company about the noise from the nearby turbine, but she got nowhere.

A few months ago, both Schwartzbach and Sauk Valley Media issued public records requests for any documents that showed the couple had received notice about the wind farm petition. The county produced nothing.

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 their lawsuit, the Schwartzbachs are asking the court to decommission the offending turbine and to award them damages of more than $50,000.

Lee County Zoning Administrator Chris Henkel didn’t return a message seeking comment. A Goldwind spokesman said his company’s policy was not to comment on pending litigation.

In January 2008, the county gave the wind energy company three years for construction to be “substantially under way,” according to the lawsuit. But construction didn’t begin on the 71-turbine wind farm until October 2011, more than a half year after the deadline.

The county should have required the company to go through the special-use permit process again because the three years had passed, the lawsuit says.

The Schwartzbachs don’t have an attorney, but she consulted one, who told her they had a case. She was told it would cost $50,000 to $100,000 to pursue the matter.

“We don’t have that kind of money to spend,” said Margina Schwartzbach, a court reporter.

She said she did a lot of research before filing the lawsuit.

“I have to at least try and fight this,” she said. “I feel like we have good legal standing.”

A hearing in the lawsuit is set for July 9.

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