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Oakwood Hills crowd voices power plant opposition at first public meeting since shutdown

Some residents call for village president's resignation

CRYSTAL LAKE – After nearly two months of waiting to address their Village Board, Oakwood Hills residents and opponents of a proposed $450 million power plant showed up Thursday at a Village Board meeting to express their disappointment in village leadership.

The meeting, which had to be held at McHenry County College to accommodate the roughly 200-person crowd, did not include the proposed $450 million power plant on the agenda, but that it did not stop people from voicing their opposition during the public forum.

Much like the new security measures that were put in place at Oakwood Hills Village Hall after it reopened Tuesday, attendees were wanded at the entrance and had their bags searched before entering. Village President Melanie Funk shut down public access to village hall in August citing threats toward board members and officials.

A Freedom of Information Act request found there has been no documented cases of threats.

Rosie Riley, an Oakwood Hills resident for more than 30 years, started the public forum questioning Funk’s leadership – a sentiment that would be shared throughout the 50-minute forum.

“Nothing you’ve done so far shows any amount of neutrality or transparency,” Riley told Funk. “We’re not bullies or thugs ... we’re concerned citizens.”

Calls for Funk’s resignation came from multiple speakers while others questioned when the board knew about the project and why there was so much secrecy surrounding the process. In a rare answer to a question, Funk told one speaker she was first approached about the project at the end of April 2013.

Regina Narusis, a longtime local lawyer, questioned the village’s process and wondered if the restrictions on comments were a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

“You can’t play these games with the people. You weren’t honest with them,” Narusis said. “I’m sorry, ma’am, you violated our trust.”

Local physician Dr. James Berg cited medical studies, saying the plant would cause an increase in asthma and damaged lungs. Other residents such as Denise Knochel saw no need to wait for the public forum and attempted to speak on each agenda item, stating she did not believe the board was to be trusted with or capable of making a decision on any issue.

Despite the board receiving heavy criticism, the final speaker said there were still opportunities to make the people’s choice.

“It’s not too late to take a stand with the community,” Joe Ricciardi said.

While it was contentious at times, the Village Board did approve a study to be done by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning to look at the impact a power plant would have on the air quality throughout the region. 

The next public zoning hearing on the proposed plant is scheduled for Oct. 9.

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