Ethanol fuels tense Council debate

The proposed ethanol plant planned for northwest Rockford sparked tense debate during the April 24 City Council meeting. That debate ultimately defeated the attempt to have the city file as legal objector and an attempt to ask the county to delay its vote.

Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) motioned to have the city file as a legal objector. But Holt’s motion died after he failed to get the 10 votes needed to suspend the procedural rules. Ald. Victory Bell (D-5)’s motion to ask Winnebago County to delay action on the proposed development was also defeated.

Holt said he disagreed with the Codes and Regulations Committee’s recommendation to support rezoning the project’s proposed site. “We should object to the rezoning,” Holt said. His concerns were fueled by the fact that those building the plant have never constructed or managed an ethanol plant before. Holt said local residents would be affected by how the plant was managed.

Filing as a legal objector could give the city some control over the development, Holt said. It could force a developer to enter into a development agreement. Citing the importance of having that control. Holt said, “At some point, this facility is going to be surrounded by the city of Rockford.”

Ald. Patrick Curran (R-2) said his support of filing as a legal objector doesn’t mean he’s against ethanol. Curran said he just needs more answers. “You’ve got to know what’s coming out of the stacks,” he said.

Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) also voiced his concerns. “There are so many questions that concern me,” Bell said, such as Rockford’s west side getting the short end of the stick. “They want it to be a dumping ground for things, negative on the west side,” Bell said.

He challenged fellow aldermen to consider how they want Rockford to look, Bell said, “What do you want to see on the west side?”

Ald. Linda McNeely (D-13) surmised why the west side might be thought of as an alleged dumping ground: “If you don’t want it to be considered racist, you have to think about it. I have to assume, like thousands of others, that that’s what they’ve been soliciting to the west side. Please don’t bring any more businesses like that to the west side.”

She asserted the west side would have welcomed the Chrysler plant and CherryVale Mall. “Bring us what we want,” McNeely said.

Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen discounted McNeely’s claims that racism played a part in any county decisions. “That is absolutely absurd,” Christiansen said. He stressed potential developers—not the county—choose their locations. Christiansen said TrimRite, which operates a hog processing plant in Freeport, and the proposed ethanol plant developer, chose the west side.

McNeely also cited another unrelated concern—about the city’s new Community and Economic Development Director Reid Montgomery—later in the meeting. McNeely said the appointment should be held over for further review. “We need time to look over his résumé,” she said.

She stressed her concerns shouldn’t be considered a personal attack. But fellow aldermen said there’d been an exhaustive search for the new hire. With McNeely voting no, all other aldermen approved the appointment—effective May 24.

From the April 26-May 2, 2006, issue

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