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GENEVA – A Kane County judge on Thursday gave residents living among the wind farm operated by NextEra Energy Resources the OK to take a lawsuit seeking the turbines’ removal to trial.
Judge Michael Colwell rejected NextEra’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by about 40 landowners around the Shabbona area, giving the residents the trial they have sought for nearly a year.
“This was a very important motion that we prevailed on,” said Rick Porter, the Rockford-based attorney representing the landowners in the suit.
“The big issue here is the court has found cause to continue the case,” Porter said.
The lawsuit stems from the June 2009 decision by the DeKalb County Board to grant NextEra permission to build and operate 119 turbines in Afton, Clinton, Milan and Shabbona townships. NextEra has since built and begun to operate a 145-turbine wind farm that straddles the DeKalb-Lee county line.
The lawsuit names NextEra Energy, the DeKalb County Board and each of its 24 members, and the nearly 100 landowners who allowed the turbines to be installed on their property.
At the heart of the lawsuit is the assertion that the DeKalb County Board overstepped its zoning authority when it authorized the special use zoning permits for agricultural land. The county had no such use for wind farms, or wind energy conversion systems, and therefore had no right to grant the special agricultural permits, Porter said.
DeKalb County officials have said the project is allowed under a special use clause that permits “essential service structures” and those related to public use.
The Citizens for Open Government group initially filed a lawsuit in July 2009, but that was dismissed in December because it lacked factual evidence. The group filed an amended complaint in January that asked that the wind farm be shut down and the turbines dismantled.
Mel Hass, spokesman for the anti-wind farm group Citizens for Open Government, said the group will push on to have the wind turbines removed.
“I’m very pleased with the judge’s ruling. NextEra has made several attempts to have our complaint dismissed,” he said. “... It gives me, and I think our group, a renewed vigor to press forward and to continue doing what we’re doing.”
Hass said the group remains confident that the case will work out in its favor.
“I have believed that all along. I still believe that with the A-1 zoning ordinance, that the county usurped their authority and hopefully we can prove that in a court of law,” Hass said.
Porter said he expects a trial to begin within 12 months. If the Open Government group prevails, it could lead to a court order that NextEra take down the turbines and return access roads and concrete slabs to farmland, Porter said.
Representatives from NextEra could not be reached for comment Thursday.
• Daily Chronicle reporter Caitlin Mullen contributed to this report.