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McLean County Approves 5th Wind Farm; Names Rogal To Board Vacancy

Jim Rogal swearing in cermony
Eric Stock
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael on Thursday administered the oath to Jim Rogal as he was sworn in to serve on the county board.

The McLean County Board on Thursday approved construction of a $350 million wind farm project in the southeastern corner of the county, becoming the county’s fifth wind farm.

The board also named labor union leader Jim Rogal to fill a board vacancy in District 4, and approved a contract for interim county administrator Cassy Taylor.

Sapphire Sky Wind Energy LLC won approval to build up to 64 wind turbines of up to 590 feet tall across more than 14,000 acres in Bellflower and West townships. The wind farm would generate 250 megawatts of power and plans to provide power to about 80,000 homes annually.

Sapphire Sky is an affiliate of Chicago-based Invenergy LLC that operates a wind farm in northeastern McLean County.

The wind farm will be built in county board vice chair Jim Soeldner’s district. He noted there was opposition from some nearby residents, but wind farm projects are less controversial than when they first arrived in McLean County over a decade ago.

“I think a lot of it is we have experience now, so people know what they are, they know the noise they make, the (light) flicker,” Soeldner said.

The county board approved the special-use permit for the project by an 18-0 vote. Board members Catherine Metsker and George Wendt abstained.

The board also approved a road agreement for Sapphire Sky to use certain roads during construction. Sapphire Sky must reach agreements with each township before the county will issue a building permit, according to Soeldner.

One resident voiced opposition to the road agreement project. Postal carrier Jim Jolly told the board that Invenergy did not honor its road agreement for its wind farms near Chenoa and Lexington.

“The county roads in my experience were just absolutely horrible when the project was going on. They actually ruined, completely totaled two of my mail cars on my mail route,” Jolly said. “I’m going to ask for compensation for that."

Jolly also indicated the roads in the area have not yet been repaired after construction. Soeldner said Inveregy still owes money to several municipalities related to the wind farm in northeastern McLean County, but said the company has started to make progress on that.

Sapphire Sky projects the project will general $79 million in property tax revenue for taxing bodies in McLean County and $43.7 million in revenue for area school districts over the life of the project, create close to 380 jobs for the county during construction and generate 36 long-term jobs, according to a report compiledby David Loomis, Illinois State University economics professor and co-founder of the Center for Renewable Energy.

Soeldner said construction could begin this fall.

Rogal appointed

Newly-appointed McLean County Board member Jim Rogal said he's like to see the county offer more help to people who faced hardship because of the pandemic.

Rogal said many are struggling to find and keep a roof over their head. “Affordable housing is a big deal. We are seeing houses sell pretty quickly here, but lower-income houses and apartments are harder for people to get and some of those people are having harder times getting employment, especially with child care and things like that that are hard to get,” Rogal said.

Rogal is a labor union leader who was appointed Thursday to serve the remaining 17 months of a four-year term in District 4. That covers west and northwest Normal. Logan Smith resigned from the seat last month to take a job out of state. The only other candidate, retired educator and former county board member Sally Pyne, withdrew her candidacy and endorsed Rogal on Monday when both met with the board’s executive committee.

Rogal said he'd also like to see additional help for small businesses that suffered during the COVID shutdown and he’d like to see the county board explore livestreaming all of its committee meetings, as it did during pandemic restrictions. Rogal said the pandemic also demonstrates the need for mental health services, which he'd like to see expanded.

Rogal said he intends to run for election next year, depending on how county board district lines are drawn later this year.

In other business, the board:

  • Approved a six-month contract for interim County Administrator Cassy Taylor. The board approved Taylor for the position in May, following the departure of Camille Rodriguez, who left for a public health job in Colorado. The contract calls for a base annually salary of $132,800 and a $550 monthly allowance for use of her personal automobile. The contract calls for a six-month performance evaluation to determine if Taylor should be considered for the permanent position.
  • Approved a 71% increased in the cost of a marriage or civil union license — from $38 to $65. County Clerk Kathy Michael indicated in a report that $65 is the average fee that 11 surrounding counties charge. The projected $24,000 a year the fee increase would raise could help cover the cost of a new online application system, Michael said, adding she hopes the county can use American Rescue Plan funds for the purchase. She indicated the current program the clerk’s office uses has limited capability and “we often encounter problems.” Michael added the clerk’s office is conducting a study of other fees and will present its findings next month.
  • Approved an agreement with the village of Bellflower to ban excessive engine braking. The village reports it has fielded complaints of excessive noise from excessive engine braking on County Highway 5. The McLean County Highway Department will buy and put up signs, and the village will be responsible for enforcing the ban.
  • Approved the appointment of District 87 school board member Chuck Irwin to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (RPC), to finish a term that will expire Dec. 31. Last month the board rejected the appointment of District 87 board member Fitzgerald Samedy to the RPC in a 9-8 party line vote with Democrats voting against his appointment.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.