Editorial: Let’s stop the circus and compromise

Calling a special session of the Winnebago County Board on a Friday for the following Monday was extraordinary enough. However, when the issue at hand was a zoning issue of no immediate crisis, as one public speaker put it: “What is rush to judgment?” The rush around the locating the proposed ethanol plant in Winnebago County has deteriorated to a circus-like affair, rather than the orderly and thoughtful proceedings of government.

When will local officials, who are supposedly “leaders,” realize property rights cannot be attacked with a barrage of unwanted proposals that set dangerous zoning precedents, seemingly on a whim?

Another question stands in the concept of representative government—if people obviously don’t want an endeavor in their vicinity, aren’t our “representatives” supposed to reflect the people’s will and come up with an acceptable location?

Leave it to Winnebago County government to screw up a good thing—an ethanol plant for the area. Although production methods are far from perfect, we really need this new fuel and the jobs it will produce. However, these good ends do not justify unjust means that bypass our rights.

Retool for renewable energy

As we have argued in our editorials and on our renewable energy page for more than three years, local, state and federal government must break our dependency on foreign oil, particularly that from the Mideast. One way to do that is to retool the area around renewable energy—like an ethanol plant.

Our national security is at stake, and our whole economy is teetering over the high cost of gasoline, diesel and heating oil. Ethanol is almost $1 or more less in cost per gallon. Ethanol is produced here. Our farmers and businesses need to make the money, not foreign powers that most often would rather damage us than help us. Ethanol keeps the majority of our dollars in the local area. Support our farmers; in this economy, they desperately need your support. Support our construction trades and companies. This plant is estimated at $144 million.

We need to help ourselves. For the future, we need a source located in Winnebago County to supply the Rockford metropolitan area and surrounding communities. In the near future, we must realize that gasoline will hit $4, $5, and $6 a gallon. Oil production has peaked worldwide; $60 a barrel is a price we will remember fondly. We need our own local source of replacement fuel and conversions for traditionally fueled vehicles.

If we could actually achieve this, despite our quicksilver “representatives,” with the proper environmental protection, even Martha Stewart would say, “That’s a good thing.”

We could even save ourselves some taxes! Gov. Rod Blagojevich proposed tax credits for buying flex-fuel vehicles in his recent State of the State speech (See article on A7). You’d like $500 off on a new car, wouldn’t you? Let’s hope the legislature passes this good deal for everyone—car dealers, buyers and local ethanol producers.

Right now, you don’t pay state sales tax at the pump for E-85 fuel. That’s one of the reasons why it’s only $1.75 a gallon! If you have an E-85 vehicle, see the breakout box on this page for station locations. Wouldn’t you like to fill up your car at $1.75 a gallon and have the money go to local farmers, businesses and jobs? I would.

Compromise plan

So what do we do?

Let’s ICE this issue, for a new beginning.

Praise must be offered to the folks who formed Informed Citizens Engaged (ICE). They have truly set an example of what people can do when they feel their government is not giving the proper redress or remedy. They are well informed. They are articulate. They are organized. They are mobilized. They are model citizens.

Wendy Schneider and Wendy Larson are the co-directors of ICE. The way they mobilize property owners in the Cunningham and Meridian roads area is phenomenal. Neighbors have come together; now, may they come together for the common good—good for the entire county, Good for Wight Partners Int’l, LLC, good for the farmers, good for the entire economy.

To cool things down, ICE is already on the way. They are looking at other sites. I suggested contacting various Realtors and using their network and resources to focus on finding another “dream site” for Wight Partners Int’l, LLC, still in Winnebago County.

Schneider informed me that process was already under way, and she has several parcels already targeted. Local Realtors and citizens, please help. Go to www.norezone.net, and click on “What You Can Do” and “Add yourself to the list.”

If we can help Wight Partners Int’l, LLC locate their plant in a suitable location, they will see our citizens are much more professional than our government. Their “dream site” includes a road of truck traffic grade, future access to pipelines or refineries, rail access and surrounding corn farmers. Let’s find them such a site, or something very similar.

We hope that Wight’s John Goebel will be patient with us. We do not want to lose his company or make him feel unwelcome. Our county administrators are just clumsy and think they can run over people.

Just like elected city officials dealing with supposed home rule, elected county officials should avoid committing political suicide and follow the proper political process.

Real representatives speak out

The following comments were made against the Machiavellian circus masquerading as a special session of the Winnebago County Board, Monday, Jan. 30.

Winnebago County Board Member Pete MacKay (R-5) said about keeping adjacent property owners’ legal objections in the zoning code, “We should just do it because it’s right.”

As opposed to the conversation Winnebago County Board Member Dorothy Redd (D-6) described having with Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen about the ethanol plant zoning process: “I was very uncomfortable, and you told me to keep my mouth shut.”

Then, Winnebago County Board Member Mary Anne Aiello (R-9) reacted to the back-room dealings, the short circuiting of the normal zoning codes and out-of-line special meetings: “I just get mad. It doesn’t look good. We wonder why people don’t trust us…boy. If we don’t start straightening our act up around here, we look like fools!”

Aiello received a standing ovation from at least three quarters of the 160-plus people at the meeting.

How did Wight’s Goebel react? Pretty well: “Winnebago County is an opportunity. It’s part of the public process. It’s part of what makes America great.”

He also offered a trip to Steamboat Rock, Iowa, to the Pine Lake Corn Processing Plant. He said that plan and technology is what he wants for his plant here. Goebel said the air scrubbers are “state of the art,” and we could see for ourselves what we will get here.

That’s a man we can work with, and we will be proud to have him and his company as part of our community.

If Goebel and ICE can get together, we’ll have quite a celebration. That celebration can be hosted by Winnebago County officials if they uphold the open and transparent democratic process. Let’s stop the strange circus and compromise for everyone’s good.

From the Feb. 1-7, 2006, issue

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