Oakwood Hills power plant proposal killed amid strong public opposition

CRYSTAL LAKE – Developers for a proposed power plant in Oakwood Hills have killed the project in light of strong public opposition from residents of the village and surrounding areas.

The proposed $450 million natural gas power plant was first presented to residents in July and garnered immediate opposition as nearly 1,000 people showed up to the first zoning hearing on the project. Residents said the plant presented serious health, environmental and community concerns, including its proximity to a school and the negative effect it would have on property values.

Martin Gierut, chairman of the Oakwood Hills Zoning Board, said he was glad to see the developers listen to the outcry, but was disappointed the board never got to vote on the measure.

“I have a feeling the power company would not have liked the result of the vote,” Gierut said. “I think it was an ill-conceived plan ... and they decided it was no longer worth the time and effort.”

Developers attempted to ease concerns by highlighting the limited emissions the plant would produce compared to coal plants and other energy facilities. They also outlined a plan that would negate the need for groundwater as the 1.5 million gallons of water per day needed to operate the plant would come from numerous wastewater facilities.

But an expert hired by the Power Plant Opposition Group developed a thorough report showing the plant would likely need to draw from the deep-water aquifer and create numerous negative issues for residents, including noise pollution and possible lung damage.

“I would not want to have my family living next to this facility,” said the group’s independent expert Robert Abboud, a former ComEd nuclear engineer.

Representatives from co-developers Enventure Partners and Northland Power had said Oakwood Hills was an attractive location because of the existing gas lines and power lines from the nearby ComEd substation.

Acting Village President Paul Smith, who started in the process as a village trustee, said he was relieved to see the process come to an end. Smith took over as acting president after former Village President Melanie Funk resigned in the face of mounting public pressure stemming from the power plant proposal residents believed she tried to hide.

“Whatever we do for the community, we have to make sure we follow the letter of the law to a T, and I was prepared to make sure that happened,” Smith said of the developer’s zoning variance request. “It’s been a learning experience, but it’s been very humbling.”

The proposal was a rallying point for Oakwood Hills residents and surrounding communities who gathered to fight against the project. The Power Plant Opposition Group had 3,789 members on its Facebook page and raised more than $30,000 in online fundraising efforts.

Chris Christensen, one of the leading members of the group, said the community effort was proof people could make a difference where they live.

“When people care and work together, we can move mountains,” Christensen said. “It brought some really great people together whose paths otherwise would not have crossed. We look forward to continuing to work together to make our communities better and stronger.”

The grassroots fight caught the attention of state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, and state Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, who helped the group in its efforts. After Funk closed off Village Hall to the public in August citing threats that were later found to be undocumented, McSweeney and Duffy had the Illinois Attorney General investigate the village and press Funk and leaders to reopen the doors.

McSweeney, who vowed to fight the project at the state level had it advanced that far, said it was a great day for Oakwood Hills.

“It’s a great day for democracy and a great day for the people of Oakwood Hills,” McSweeney said. “They stood up for their rights in a peaceful way.”

Funk was one of three political casualties during the power plant process as trustee Beth Gorr and village attorney John Cowlin also resigned in September. Those positions also were filled Sept. 18 when Smith took over as acting president.

With the power plant in the past, Smith said he is looking forward to moving on with a revived and united community.

“I really do appreciate the support of the community and the involvement they showed,” Smith said. “It’s time to move things forward.”

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