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District 46 school board raises concerns over proposed Oakwood Hills power plant

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:08 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, July 24, 2014 8:32 a.m. CDT

PRAIRIE GROVE – The proximity of a proposed natural gas power plant to District 46’s elementary and junior high schools raised a slew of concerns at a specially called school board meeting Wednesday evening.

The three-hour meeting started with a presentation by representatives of the two companies proposing to build the $450 million power plant on the northwestern edge of Oakwood Hills, just off Valley View Road behind the Oakwood Village Hall.

It concluded with the District 46 School Board directing its new superintendent to attend the Oakwood Hills Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Thursday evening and voice the unanimous opposition of the board to the project.

The zoning board is set to discuss and potentially vote on conditional approval of the project at the meeting. The Oakwood Hills Village Board also will need to give its OK, and various state and federal agencies would be required to sign off on different permits.

Representatives from the two companies, Enventure Partners and Northland Power, also held an open house on the project Tuesday.

But for many residents as well as school officials the first time they had heard about the project was this month.

“They didn’t take into any consideration that the school exists,” school board Vice President Rick Salvo said. “To them, we didn’t even exist.”

Board members and residents raised a series of concerns over the project, including effects on groundwater, noise emissions, air quality, property values and what happens in the event of an emergency.

“A school district and a power plant cannot coexist,” school board member Tara Rand said. “One of them has to go and the power plant isn’t going anywhere.”

Rand worried that the plant’s proximity to the district’s two buildings and the land it owns across Valley View Road from the proposed site would cause parents to move out of the district.

School board President Margaret Ponga also raised health and safety concerns, asking the companies’ representatives if there is a plant of this kind anywhere in the world within 200 feet of school property.

While Scott Stevens, the executive director of business development for Northland Power, couldn’t answer about a school, but he said power plants were common on the campuses of hospitals and universities.

The plant would also be required to put together emergency response plans, and in the event of an event like a tornado, the plant would be shutdown and so would be just like any other static industrial site, he said.

The plant also designed to control the precursors of asthma-inflamming emissions, said Ken Snell, a senior environmental consultant at Sargent & Lundy.

The main benefit for the school district would be a bump in property tax revenue, an estimated $500,000 for District 46 and District 155.

The village of Oakwood Hills would reap $1.3 million in a hosting fee plus increased property taxes, which would also benefit the county, Nunda Township, McHenry County College, the Cary Fire Protection District and the Cary Area Public Library.

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