Lincoln, Ill. The Mount Pulaski Board of Education voted against entering into a 25-year support contract with wind farm developers Meridien LLC. at a special meeting Wednesday night.
In exchange for payments amounting to, at most, approximately $12.5 million dollars over the life of the 71-81 turbine wind farm project, the contract specified that the BOE would, among other terms:
- Present a resolution to the Logan County board in favor of the project
- Supply representatives to speak in support of the project at public meetings
- Issue company-approved news releases expressing their support for the wind farm
- Ban all current and future board members from speaking against the project in an official capacity
- Not make any claims or suits against the project or the company
- Be prevented from passing any law or ordinance that would regulate, limit or detrimentally affect the project
The 13-page contract before the Board was developed through conversations between the BOE’s attorney, Christopher D. Oswald, of Peoria law firm Miller, Hall & Triggs LLC., and representatives from ReLight US Corp. (the Italy-based parent company of Meridien LLC.).
The Board was expected to approve the contract by July 1, just one day before the company will go before the Logan County Zoning Board of Appeals with their modified project proposal.
Earlier this month, the Logan County Regional Planning Commission voted to recommend conditional use for the project, which will span several thousand acres of rural land in Mount Pulaski, Elkhart and Broadwell.
If the wind farm is allowed to move past the ZBA, the decision will ultimately land in the hands of the Logan County Board. If it’s approved, the company hopes to begin construction in the first quarter of 2016 and have the farm operational the following year.
With about 80 people looking on from the audience Wednesday night, the Board of Education first heard from several members of the public who were in favor of the agreement and who cited the district’s financial struggles and their own desires to see local children remain in Mount Pulaski Schools in the longrun.
Sarah Cooper, of Mount Pulaski, explained that she and her family live within the footprint of the proposed project and that her three children attend school in town.
"I am concerned for my daughter in the fact that one teacher in her classroom has to manage nearly 25 students and still try to teach," she said, suggesting that the money could be used to add teacher’s aides to classrooms such as that.
"I know this is a tough one for many of you, but I hope that you come out in support tonight. I think our future, albeit a different one, hinges on this. I am afraid that this could be like Decatur, where they said ‘no’ to the mall and Forsythe took it. Decatur has fallen since then."
She added that, if emotions were taken out of the situation, the contract was about securing the educational future of the community.
Several people spoke out against the contract and its terms, including Darryl Cameron who said, "Ask yourself, ‘why are they offering this deal?’ The reason is because they know they have problems. They know they are going to harm local residents. They want to buy your silence."
"If you’re going to prostitute yourselves, then get a better deal- get all the money up front," he said. "Take out all the clauses that prevent you from doing your rightful duty in the years ahead. Remember, if they want this bad enough, they will agree to your conditions."
One person speaking in opposition referred to the contract as a bribe and another raised the question as to whether or not the conditions of the contract were within the authority of the school board. The board also heard from a man who once lived within the footprint of an existing wind farm and has since abandoned his home due to the sleep disturbances he said his family experienced once the turbines were activated.
Board member Ashley Combs said she had been in contact with the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the Board of Education Office and that none of them could give her an opinion on whether the BOE was allowed to enter into the contract and that there is no case law for this sort of thing.
Another board member said that he felt like they were "being manipulated by ReLight." Others expressed the feeling of essentially being between a rock and a hard place with the contract before them due to the districts' financial situation.
At one point the BOE’s attorney was asked what his biggest concern with the contract was and how the company could most likely get out of the terms put forth. Oswald responded that if the project failed, it would affect the agreement.
The motion to approve the contract failed in a 4-2 vote with one member voting "present."