Opponents: Brunner, Muirhead deals will tarnish Kane forest image

Opponents say deals would ruin credibility

  • New ComEd towers in Kane County's Muirhead Forest Preserve would be a slap in the face to the former owners of the land, according to opponents of a pending deal before the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission.

    New ComEd towers in Kane County's Muirhead Forest Preserve would be a slap in the face to the former owners of the land, according to opponents of a pending deal before the Kane County Forest Preserve Commission. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Posted2/7/2015 7:41 AM

Pending deals that will alter the way two Kane County forest preserves are used will destroy the credibility of the district as land stewards, according to a few residents protesting the moves Friday.

Commissioners plan to ink deals Tuesday that will bring a for-profit organic farm to the Brunner preserve and a row of new ComEd power towers to the Muirhead preserve.

 

The first deal would use 20 percent of the Brunner preserve for the farm, and commissioners said the property has a history of being farmed. Cliff McConville, owner of Barrington Natural Farms, would just be a new farmer, said Commissioner John Hoscheit.

Much of the land in the preserve has not yet been restored to natural prairie since the district acquired the 740-acre parcel in 2008. Row crops still grow on the property.

But it's the 1,400 animals and use of the land for commercial gain, rather than open space, that bugs Diane Kertz. The district would charge McConville rent and take a 5 percent cut from the sales of any products that originate at the Brunner property.

"The proposal you've heard today is a prime example of the kind of deals the district should not be making," said Kertz, a Batavia resident. "It sounds like a pretty sweet deal for Barrington Natural Farms, but it's certainly not what I, as a taxpayer, want to see in the area of a natural preserve."

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The second deal may be more controversial because it pits the forest preserve against an organization some of the commissioners created.

Shauna Wiet, chairwoman of the Kane County Historic Preservation Commission, said the proposed ComEd power lines would run too close to the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed farmhouse at the Muirhead preserve. In fact, the commission will send a letter to the state opposing the plan.

Wiet expects the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and possibly the National Register of Historic Places, to also fight the proposal.

"It really is a nationally significant site," Wiet said.

Ellen Vogel owns a farm adjacent to the Muirhead preserve.

Allowing the power lines in the preserve is both against the mission of the district and a slap in the face to the Muirhead family, she said.

Vogel spoke of efforts by the district staff to "circumvent restrictive covenants on the deed to the property" to nab $319,000 that ComEd promises to give the district for the right of way.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The legal maneuvering is just plain wrong," Vogel said. "The message sent to future land granters will be clear: The forest preserve cannot be trusted."

Commissioners defended the plan as the lesser of two evils. Otherwise, towers would line three sides of the preserve.

Commissioner Drew Frasz said that would be like having "an 80-foot-tall electric fence" abutting the preserve.

Mike Petersdorf attended the meeting but did not address the commissioners.

His wife is part of the Muirhead family, which still owns the Frank Lloyd Wright farmhouse.

"What's the point of agreements if this commission is just going to do whatever they can to circumvent them when it is convenient for them?" Petersdorf said. "My father-in-law didn't want to sell that land. They came to him. They assured him, multiple times, they wanted to restore the prairie and restore the land to its natural state. That's why he sold to them.

"He's livid about what they are doing. It's a huge credibility hit. The district went out and raised millions of dollars on the promise of buying open space.

"Now they are just giving it to the highest bidder."

The commission's executive committee approved both deals by voice vote.

There were no votes against either deal.

The full commission will be taking the final votes next Tuesday.

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