Board approves ethanol zoning

Developers of a proposed ethanol plant cleared another hurdle. The Winnebago County Board—by an April 27 vote of 23 to 4—approved a map amendment that effectively rezoned nearly 60 acres along Meridian Road.

County Board member Gary Jury (R-3) said he’s happy the board finally sang a different tune.

“You can’t say ‘no’ to everything,” Jury said.

After some slightly spirited debate, County Board members Mary Aiello (R-9), Pete MacKay (R-5), Tuffy Quinonez (D-11) and Dorothy Redd (D-6) didn’t vote with the rest of the pack.

“This is wrong. It’s probably going to pass anyway because their minds are already made up,” MacKay said, adding research showed the ethanol plant would decrease property values.

County Board Member John Harmon (R-4) challenged MacKay to document his claims.

“I must ask everyone to pay attention to the facts,” Harmon said.

He said County Board members shouldn’t consider anything, not subjected to public scrutiny, as evidence.

County Board member and Finance Committee Chairman Chris Johnson (R-4) said there’d been enough discussion and moved to end questions. That motion was approved.

Before casting her “no” vote, Aiello stressed she wasn’t opposed to having an ethanol plant in Winnebago County. Aiello said she feared starting a trend, which could adversely affect Rockford’s west side.

“I’m afraid it’s going to stifle the growth,” she said.

Aiello said spending more time looking for more suitable land might have saved the county some embarrassment.

The county’s vote made any action the City of Rockford would have taken moot. Rockford city aldermen approved a resolution during its May 1 meeting to permanently postpone any action on becoming a legal objector to the proposed ethanol plant.

“It says basically that we’re not going to talk about it,” Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) said.

Two motions came after tense debate at an April 24 City Council meeting. Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) presented a motion, which asked the city to file as a legal objector against the ethanol plant. Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) presented a motion to ask the county to delay any action after Holt’s motion died. Bell’s motion also failed

Informed Citizens Engaged (ICE), a group of concerned property owners around the proposed plant, were enraged by the vote and vowed to continue to fight.

Dennis Schumacher, ICE’s attorney, said: “The people that I’ve been representing have been looking at the possibility of an appeal. That means they have to go through the civil court, and you anticipate the possibility of appeal. I had represented to Judge Pirrello that I would not be following through, so I recommended that these folks get another attorney. Then, the same attorney would be at the appeal level, too. Whichever side loses, they will probably appeal. When I last talked with the Attorney General’s office, they were still looking at the possibility of an Open Meetings Act violation.

ICE has alleged all votes on the issue were lined up at a meeting at Garrett’s Café, without notifying the public. Winnebago County Board member Randy Olson (R-1) admitted the meeting occurred and said the Open Meetings Act was not violated.

In a partial ruling on the issue, Pirrello refused to stop last Thursday’s vote on the plant’s zoning. Schumacher said he was not ICE’s attorney at that hearing.

From the May 3-9, 2006, issue

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