Ethanol Plant Public Hearing

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It's a fairly new topic for our community, but in a matter of months a proposed ethanol plant has brought a mix of tears, fights and applause. The Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals listened to public comments for five hours of discussion.

The public hearing drew a crowd of about 400 people each with their own agenda and their own opinion on the plant. The night started with ethanol plant developer, Wight Partners on the stand. Wight brought a team of experts to show the zoning board of appeals that the 60 acres at 1951 Meridian Road should be zoned heavy industrial.

The following are the six standards for zoning map amendments:
1. The change to the requested zoning district provides for the citizens of the County adequate light, pure air and safety from fire and other dangers.
2. The change to the requested zoning district conserves the value of land and buildings.
3. The change to the requested zoning district lessens or avoids congestion of traffic on the public roads.
4. The change to the requested zoning district promotes the public health, safety, comfort, convenience, morals and general welfare.
5. The change to the requested zoning district protects the character and the stability of the residential, agricultural, business, and industrial areas within the County.
6. The change to the requested zoning district promotes the orderly and beneficial development of such areas.

Wight Partners provided positive points about all six standards. Vice President John Goebel says the plant would infuse millions of dollars in the economy. Goebel says, "We're buying goods and services year in and year out to the tune of $144 million."

But residents against the location site see the plant in a different light. Deb Seyler, a resident against the location provided testimony regarding orderly development and public health and safety. Seyler testified that, "Please do not be short sighted. Air pollution, water depletion and stymied future developments are two high a price to pay for 43 jobs."

The Winnebago County Farm Bureau provided the ZBA with 14,000 signatures in favor of the ethanol plant. Winnebago County Farm Bureau told the ZBA, "This would be a win-win for local farmers, taxing bodies and Winnebago County through added construction jobs and 40 plus at this location."

Wight talked for about two hours. After Wight, about 25 people who support the plant and about 25 people against testified in front of the ZBA. There was no time limit as long as the speakers discuss the six standards for zoning map amendments. The ZBA decided to continue the meeting next Tuesday. The ZBA will host the second part of this public hearing on March 14th at 5 p.m. at Winnebago High School. After the public comment period ends, Wight has a chance to respond. The ZBA will then meet and decide what recommendation will be made to the Winnebago County Board.