Wind farm lawsuit against DeKalb County, landowners is settled

DeKalb County Board President Larry Anderson said the dismissal of a nearly 2-year-old lawsuit against the county and multiple county landowners over the creation of a wind farm was "an early Christmas gift."

Citizens for Open Government – a group of local residents opposed to the wind turbines in the county – dismissed the lawsuit Friday after reaching a settlement with NextEra, the builders and operators of the wind farm and one of the many defendants.

Details of the settlement are unknown.

Anderson, R-Malta, has been involved with the wind farm – which includes 119 turbines and spans Afton, Clinton, Milan and Shabbona townships – since the board first approved it in June 2009. He said he was happy to see a resolution.

"It's been in the works quite a while," Anderson said of the legal battle. "It's nice to get it out of the way and now we move on."

John Farrell, head of the civil division for the DeKalb County State's Attorney, said he is glad to see the case end and a favorable outcome. Though the county did not receive any money in a settlement, Farrell said the legal case has come at no cost to taxpayers as any outside consulting was paid for by NextEra.

Farrell said he has not had any contact with the plaintiffs and was not privy to the details of the settlement reached between them and NextEra. He said the important takeaway for the county is the validation of the process it used to go about creating the wind farm.

The lawsuit alleged that the county board overstepped its zoning authority when it authorized the special-use zoning permits for agricultural land. County officials said the project was allowed under a special-use clause that permits "essential service structures."

"It was hard to really predict how this would play out," Farrell said. "But these kind of cases do generally end up in settlements."

Mel Hass, spokesman for Citizens for Open Government, said "the issue has been resolved," but declined to comment further. Jim Nilles, also a member of the group, declined to comment and the group's lawyer, Rick Porter, said "the matter has been resolved."

A spokesman for NextEra did not immediately return messages left Tuesday afternoon.

Farrell said there is still one lawsuit against NextEra and the county that is still pending.

The dissension over the wind farm started as soon as the idea was proposed.

In June 2009, The DeKalb County Board granted NextEra permission to build and operate 119 wind turbines in Afton, Clinton, Milan and Shabbona townships. the turbines were part of a larger wind farm that included 145 total turbines in DeKalb and Lee counties. Before board approval, several hearings – including one that lasted about 19 hours – were held on the proposal that brought out hundreds of people.

Citizens for Open Government filed a lawsuit in July 2009 that was dismissed later that year because it lacked factual evidence. The group filed an amended complaint in January 2010, asking that the wind farm be shut down and the turbines dismantled. In June 2010, a judge rejected NextEra's motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The lawsuit named NextEra Energy, the 24 members of the county board at the time the wind farm was approved and the nearly 100 landowners who allowed turbines to be installed on their property.