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updated: 8/27/2014 12:43 PM

Oakwood Hills to reopen village hall after threats led to closing

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  • Oakwood Hills Village Hall will reopen to the public Tuesday at the urging of the Illinois Attorney General. Threats against board members forced officials to close the building to the public nearly a month ago and cancel a scheduled Aug. 7 board meeting.

       Oakwood Hills Village Hall will reopen to the public Tuesday at the urging of the Illinois Attorney General. Threats against board members forced officials to close the building to the public nearly a month ago and cancel a scheduled Aug. 7 board meeting.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

Oakwood Hills will reopen its village hall to the public Tuesday, nearly a month after threats forced officials to close the building, an official said Wednesday.

The McHenry County town of roughly 2,000 people, north of Cary and east of Crystal Lake, erupted with controversy over a proposed natural gas-fired power plant.

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Threats made at a July 31 zoning board hearing led officials to close village hall until things cooled down.

At the urging of the Illinois Attorney General, the facility at 3020 North Park Drive will reopen to the public with new security measures, Village President Melanie Funk said.

"We had to get some metal detecting wands and put in some safety measures," Funk said. "There will be an officer posted at the hall. For the meetings, the residents will be wanded and bags will be searched, and that's to protect the public."

Funk said, typically, the village clerk's office is open only three days a week for three hours a day as village hall is run by part-time employees.

"We only have part-time police officers," she said. "There was a misconception that we were closed the entire time. We were just closed to the public. The trustees were always available by email and phone (and) nobody works in the building anyway. Everybody has a full-time job. Even our building department (code officer) works by appointment only, so that's never changed."

Officials are expecting a huge crowd at the Sept. 4 village board meeting even though the power plant is not on the agenda.

"We are trying to find a different venue to accommodate more people," Funk said. "We can only fit about 32 people in that room."

She added, the attorney general's office informed her that village officials need to make every effort to accommodate the crowds at public meetings.

Funk said though an official police report on the threats made doesn't exist at this point, the investigation is ongoing.

More than 800 village residents and those from surrounding communities had packed two July zoning board meetings at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn. Police said there was yelling and obscenities and village trustees and employees had to be escorted out for their safety.

Oakwood Hills resident Chris Reining, who lives about a half mile from the proposed power plant and is leading the opposition, said village officials are blowing things out of proportion.

"This is a highly emotional project," he said. "I think police presence is appropriate, but the metal detectors may be an overreaction."

Reining said the yelling at the July zoning hearing was caused by confusion over the agenda.

"People were upset (because) they thought their voices weren't going to be heard," he added.

The proposed $500 million Oakwood Hills Energy Center is a joint development venture between Northland Power, a Canadian company, and Enventure Partners. The developer suggests it is a cheaper and cleaner way of producing energy than coal and nuclear plants, and would supply electricity to 160,000 households.

The facility is targeted for roughly 13 acres behind village hall near a ComEd substation and high-tension power lines -- less than a half-mile from Prairie Grove Elementary School and residential areas.

The zoning board hearing has been continued to Oct. 9 at the Holiday Inn, 800 S. Route 31, Crystal Lake.

Funk said the petitioner is paying for having the zoning meetings at the Holiday Inn. "We don't have that kind of money in our budget," she added.

Reining said residents have hired multiple expert witnesses to testify at the hearing.

Meanwhile, residents opposed to the project will host a citizens meeting at 6 p.m. Sept. 10 at Prairie Grove Elementary School, 3223 Route 176, Crystal Lake.

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