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Lee County settles with couple over wind farm

Residents never received notice about turbines

Published: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 12:04 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Jan. 13, 2014 2:50 p.m. CDT

DIXON – Lee County residents Margina and Larry Schwartzbach say the county failed to notify them of a wind farm going up in their neighborhood.

The county never denied it.

In September, the county settled a lawsuit filed by the Schwartzbachs, giving the couple $5,000.

According to online court records, the Schwartzbachs also settled with Goldwind USA, the wind farm's owner, and Mainstream Renewable Power, the previous owner.

The Shady Oaks wind project started operating in June 2012 in southern Lee County, near the villages of Compton and West Brooklyn. Goldwind is the subsidiary of a Chinese company.

Under open government laws, the county could not keep the settlement amount secret. Private companies have no such requirement.

Matt Klahn, a Lee County assistant state's attorney, said the county gives wind farm companies the addresses of those who must receive notices about proposed projects, while the firms mail them out.

With the Goldwind wind farm, four permits were involved, so the process became complicated, Klahn said.

As for the lack of notice, he said, it was an "honest mistake."

"There were multiple people who missed it. You can't pin this on one person," Klahn said. "We appreciated working with the Schwartzbachs. They are nice people."

The county's insurance carrier covered the attorney's fees and mediation costs, Klahn said. Because of the deductible, he said, the $5,000 was paid out of the county's general fund.

In 2012, Margina Schwartzbach spoke during a county zoning board meeting, at which the panel was considering another wind farm. She said Goldwind project had disrupted their lives.

A turbine near her house, she said, was a constant bother.

"It's very annoying," she told the board. "It produces loud humming sounds."

At night, she said, it was 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."

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

Last year, Sauk Valley Media filed a public records request for any documents that showed the couple had received notice about the wind farm petition. The county produced nothing.

In their lawsuit, the Schwartzbachs asked the court to decommission the offending turbines and to award them damages of more than $50,000.

They filed the lawsuit without a lawyer, but by the end, they were represented by Rodney Kimes, a Beloit attorney. Neither Kimes nor the Schwartzbachs could be reached for comment.

No new wind farms in Sauk Valley

Last May, the Lee County Board approved a controversial wind farm, involving 53 turbines in the far southwestern part of the county.

The previous year, Whiteside County signed off on nine turbines for the same project, owned by Ireland-based Mainstream Renewable Power.

Not one turbine has gone up yet.

About all that's happened is litigation. Residents near the proposed wind farm have filed a yet-to-be-resolved lawsuit against the project.

Stuart Richter, Whiteside County's zoning administrator, figured the litigation has stalled the Mainstream project.

A manager with Mainstream couldn't be reached for comment.

In general, area counties are not seeing any interest in new wind farms, a change from previous years.

Lee County, which got the state's first wind farm a decade ago, knows of no companies considering projects.

"We're probably maxed out, as far as placement of turbines because of the saturation we have," said Chris Henkel, Lee County's zoning administrator. "We have 230-plus turbines. We're pretty full."

Officials in Whiteside, Bureau and Ogle counties also say they have no new applicants for wind farms.

Part of the reason, officials say, is the uncertainty over production tax credits for wind farms, which has spurred development over the years.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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