A group of Stephenson County residents gather Sunday night to talk wind farms. They say they like their quiet, rural surroundings and they don't want their homes disturbed by whirring, 400-foot tall wind turbines. It's not a new issue. They filed suit to block two wind farms from coming to the county late last year. But now they say the debate has spiraled to new heights.
"They've transended wind farms. They have now hit at a core right and privilege in a democratic society," says Stephenson County resident Mike King.
Back in July, the Stephenson County board changed zoning to accomodate the construction of wind farms. The new policy eliminates public hearings previously required before land could be rezoned to house a wind turbine.
Some residents say the change took away their right to address local government. They submitted a 17 hundred-signature petition opposing the switch. After examing the petition, the Stephenson County state's attorney, John Vogt ruled Wednesday only 1,387 of the signatures were valid. That left petitioners five names short of forcing a three-quarter board vote instead of a simple majority to approve a zoning change. And that means July's simple majority approval stands.
"It could have been five the other way and we would have honored that. But it wasn't," says Stephenson County board member Jeff Mikkelsen.
The state's attorney declined to comment but Mikkelsen says signatures were eliminated either because petitioners did not specify their complaints, they were not landowners, or because the names were illegible. Each signature had a phone number attached to it, but the state's attorney did not call to verify any of the names.
"I don't understand how they can claim that there aren't enough signatures without making any attempt to investigate," says Stephenson County resident Carol Johnson.
Wind farm opponents met Sunday night to discuss whether or not to file yet another costly lawsuit against the county. They say they feel that's their only recourse now. Mikkelsen says legal action is a citizen's perogative. He adds the board is committed to promoting wind power and many farmers in the county are excited to gain a lucrative turbine.