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Oakwood Hills plant proposal delayed until October

Zoning board grants request for continuance

Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014 9:21 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 31, 2014 11:55 p.m. CDT

OAKWOOD HILLS – The developers behind a controversial $450 million power plant in Oakwood Hills will have more time to address their critics, after zoning board members Thursday postponed a vote on the project until October.

Dressed in red, hundreds of residents returned to the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn to voice opposition to the proposed 430-megawatt natural gas facility a week after expressing concerns during a separate zoning meeting on the project.

But members earlier in the week stripped public comment from the agenda, prohibiting residents from addressing the panel Thursday. Members, instead, finished the meeting within five minutes by granting the power plant developers a continuance until Oct. 9 on a 4-1 vote.

The critics in attendance consequently erupted at the board, shouting at members to let them speak.

“I have no choice in the matter,” zoning Chairman Marty Gierut said after the meeting. “[The developers] requested a continuance, and it’s a procedure that we have to follow.”

The project developers have previously said they wanted the additional time to address the numerous concerns from residents, school board members, doctors and state lawmakers. A representative from Enventure Partners, the project manager behind the proposal, left shortly after the continuance was approved.

Zoning member Bruce Wallace, who was the lone “no” vote, said the board received enough feedback from the community and developer to take a final vote on the project now versus the fall.

Gierut said the zoning board removed public comment on the advice of its attorney, who told members that every one behind the development needed to be present to fully answer questions from the public.

“If they don’t have somebody to answer every question, [the attorney] said you can’t continue the meeting,” Gierut said.

The absence of public comment may work in the opposition’s favor since they now have more time, said Ryan Noonan, who has helped organize the citizen opposition. They expect to have their say during the Oct. 9 zoning meeting.

“I understand the emotion because people feel they are not being heard. People feel powerless because they didn’t know this was coming,” Noonan said. “But we are comfortable with the delay. If everybody had the opportunity to speak, we feel they could say, ‘It’s done. The speaking is over.’’’

But not every one in attendance was at ease. Oakwood Hills resident Marcia Plebanski said she thought the board was going to allow public comment and feared that the delay prevents residents from asking more questions.

“What if we raised more questions that they need to solve by the 9th of October?” Plebanski said. “There were so many people who didn’t speak. There very well could be tons of more questions. ... It doesn’t make sense to shut us off like this.”

The proposed natural gas plant would be located along Valley View Road near the Oakwood Hills village hall.

Developers in the meeting last week detailed how the plant would create virtually no noise pollution, produce “negligible” emissions and have little to no effect on deep-water aquifers after revealing another potential wastewater treatment facility connection.

Residents in opposition have previously referenced the village’s own code that outlines environmental protections and property value and resident protections that they argue would be violated if the village approved the project.

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