Board Makes Its Decision on Ethanol Plant

By: Nichole Vrsansky
By: Nichole Vrsansky

Emotions and tempers are still flaring as a vote by the Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals paves the way for an ethanol plant to be built in the county.

The ZBA is recommending to the county board that land be re-zoned from agricultural to industrial. The plant can not be built unless that change happens. But while some are pleased with that decision, plenty of others left tonight's meeting outraged.

Those who live near the proposed ethanol plant site are devastated. The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously votes to move the process forward, recommending that zoning for the land be changed to suit the plant; an action prompting one resident to get out while she can:

“I'm extremely concerned about my property values - so my home will probably go up for sale now before they do re-zone it, so I can at least get my money out of it," says Sandy Harkonen.

The board held three public hearings before making its decision, listening to hours and hours of testimony from concerned neighbors, hearing about traffic, pollution, groundwater concerns that nearby wells would be sucked dry. Board members say this was a difficult choice.

"There are always micro-situations where it's uncomfortable, but is it the right thing for the county as a whole, obviously, with the board voting unanimously tonight, we think it is," says Zoning Board Member Ed Conklin.

Not surprisingly the developer agrees and sites supporting evidence from the 95 other ethanol plants across the United States.

"Those plants have mutually co-existed with residential, with commercial and the communities are happy to have them," says John Goebel, Vice President of Wight Partners.

The millions of dollars in local tax revenue the plant will generate also helped the board’s decision. Some board members say they're still concerned about noise and smells and water, but they have faith the regulating body, the Environmental Protection Agency, will do its job. Nearby residents say that's a gamble they're not willing to take.

"Why is it that 80-some percent of plants are out of compliance with EPA standards, we can't just rely on the EPA, those of us who live there, we were relying on them to do a little more analysis," says Deb Seyler.

This not a done deal. This is a recommendation the ZBA is making to the full county board. Board members will ultimately get the final say and that vote is expected by April 27.


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