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County in ‘precarious legal position’

May 24, 2018 GMT

A proposed solar farm voted down by the Kankakee County Board earlier this month might get a new lease on life.

In an email a few days after the vote, chairman Andy Wheeler informed board members the county was in a “precarious legal position” as a result of its 17-7 decision against the solar farm.

He sent the email to members of the majority who voted against the project along Hieland Road, near Aroma Park. He advised those members to put down their reasons in writing, which he said was a legal requirement.

In the email, he said the county’s zoning official, Delbert Skimerhorn, acknowledged he failed to instruct the board to fill out a “findings of fact” to explain its decision.

Because of the oversight, Wheeler said, the county board is expected to vote at its June 12 meeting on whether it should reconsider the solar farm, proposed by California-based Cypress Creek.

“Please be advised that I am not trying in any manner to sway or change the outcome,” Wheeler said. “This is a legal exercise that we are required to do, yet failed to do in the meeting.”

Through an open records request, the Daily Journal obtained some of the emailed responses to Wheeler.

Board member Tinker Parker, who represents the area of the proposed solar farm, called Wheeler’s request “disturbing.”

“Why then do we even vote?” Parker wrote. “Frankly, this is (expletive). We vote with residents and yet suffer the consequences of standing by the residents.”

In an interview, Parker said she was simply trying to represent the interests of her constituents.

“The main thing is that they move to this area for peace and tranquility,” Parker said. “They enjoy the country life, and they don’t want that changed in any way. They feel the solar farm would affect that.”

Another member, Jim Stauffenberg, said he voted no, in part, because the solar farm was pushed so quickly that members didn’t have a chance to hear all the facts.

Yet another one, Todd Sirois, described the proposal as “unfavorable” and “negative.” He referred to neighborhood opposition and suggested the solar project may upset a burial ground.

In an email to the Daily Journal, Wheeler said he let the project developer and property owner know about the possibility of a revote on the solar farm. He said the developer informed him the opposition group was already aware.

On Tuesday, he told the county board’s executive committee that he wanted the county to handle the issue “the right way,” adding he “could care less” how the board votes.

Board member George Washington said the board based its decision on emotions, not facts.

“We need to look at ourselves and see what the board is here to do, rather than (reflect) the emotions of people campaigning against the project,” he said.

In April, the board approved permits for 10 other solar farms, nine of which were Cypress Creek’s.

With solar farms across the nation and many more in development, Cypress Creek said these nine projects represent a $36 million investment and up to 225 construction jobs.

Cypress Creek didn’t return a message for comment Tuesday.