County Board Overwhelmingly Votes to Approve Ethanol Plant

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The Winnebago County board voted 21 to 4 in favor of a zoning change that would allow white partners to build an ethanol plant on the west side.

"We think it was a fair process, a judicious process, and we're ready to move forward with the next step," said John Goebel, Vice President of White Partners.

Discussion at the meeting centered around two main issues, property devaluation and the possible negative effects on residents.

"I think there's water problems that need to be addressed, traffic problems that need to be addressed, and noise issues. It's a perfect place for them, not the community," said Melissa Navarro, a concerned resident who attended Thursday night's meeting.

At least one board member agreed with Navarro's ideas.

"I think it'd be a good idea, it just hinders growth on the west side," said board member Mary Ann Aiello.

And while residents may not be happy with the decision, board member Greg Olsen encouraged them to give it time.

"I think there might be a short-term decrease because of the negative publicity, but a year or two down the line you're probably going to see an increase in value," said board member Greg Olsen.

Goebel added that residents had their chance to convince board members to vote against his proposed plant.

"There was 11 hours of testimony before the ZBA, and of that 11 hours, over nine hours was public comment and a lot of people got up and spoke. They weren't limited in the time they had to speak and I think they got a fair hearing," Goebel said.

Melissa Navarro, on the other hand, thinks Thursday's meeting was merely a formality.

"What upsets me the most was that this was a done deal before we even caught wind of it. I was told by a number of zoning board members in there that it was a done deal," she said.

Board members voting in favor of the proposal added that the plant is key for continued development of the west side. And if approved, it will bring jobs and business to the west side.

But the battle is not over yet. The permitting process is up next. Also Friday, attorneys for the county board and informed citizens engaged will be in court. It's regarding a suit filed by ICE claiming that some county board members violated the open meetings act. If ICE wins the lawsuit, the county board will have to restart the zoning process for the ethanol plant.