Gilberts Republican playing increasingly large role on Kane County Board

Updated 12/23/2016 10:56 AM
  • Kurt Kojzarek has a prominent position on the Kane County Board even without receiving the title of vice chairman from his peers.

    Kurt Kojzarek has a prominent position on the Kane County Board even without receiving the title of vice chairman from his peers.

Leading up to the reveal of his new vision for Kane County's power structure, county board Chairman Chris Lauzen lobbied on behalf of Kurt Kojzarek ascending to the position of vice chairman.

The behind-the-scenes cajoling failed, but Lauzen has assured a spotlight for Kojzarek with the sheer amount of responsibility heaped onto the Gilberts Republican's platter.

Atop the to-do list will be Kojzarek's new duty to shepherd through Lauzen's plan to create a waste-to-fuel facility. Lauzen billed the facility as having millions of dollars of non-property tax income potential. But the project also faces legal and regulatory challenges.

The state's attorney's office slapped Lauzen's hand when it discovered the chairman used tax dollars to help a private waste-to-fuel company and contracted with an outside law firm to surmount those challenges. As a result, Lauzen foisted the project over to the county board.

At first, the waste-to-fuel project fell into the purview of the county board's energy and environmental committee under the leadership of Barb Wojnicki. When she announced that there seemed to be no way around legal challenges, Lauzen shifted the project to Kojzarek's development committee. Wojnicki, one of the longest-tenured board members, now has no committee leadership roles.

While tempering expectations, Kojzarek signaled new optimism about a waste-to-fuel facility Thursday.

"We'll try to tackle that issue from what we're legally able to do,' Kojzarek said. "Then we'll try to seek out partners in the state Legislature to create legislation that would allow us to go the next step."

Current law prohibits the use of metals and solid waste in waste-to-fuel operations. So the first step is trying to create an operation that uses bioorganic materials, like decomposing wood. That could mean a facility so small-scale it's only used as an alternative energy source for county-owned property at first, Kojzarek said.

"Rather than go for that big operation initially, why not look at some low-hanging fruit?" he said.

Waste-to-fuel is just one highlighted project Kojzarek will oversee. A recent decision to reconsider a county board vote denying a drug and alcohol treatment center near Campton Hills places a second hot-button issue under Kojzarek's leadership. Nearby residents and Campton Hills officials continue to protest the project.

Kojzarek urged those protesters to use appropriate perspective. Yes, the developers threatened a $68 million lawsuit if the county board didn't give them "reasonable accommodation" in reconsidering the plan. But the developers had always planned to seek reconsideration after the one-year cooling off period required by county code.

The rescinding of the denial moved up reconsideration by only one month, Kojzarek said. The county zoning board -- with all new members -- will start reconsideration in mid-January before Kojzarek's committee begins its deliberations.

Kojzarek voiced optimism for the first time in describing the last major project on his plate. Redevelopment of the former Settler's Hill landfill into a cross country course has, for years, carried a cloud of deficit spending just to get the place running. Kojzarek said last month the facility would not move forward if it would add any extra burden to taxpayers. He said Thursday recent discussions are fueling a brighter financial outlook.

"We're getting closer to the point where the numbers are making more sense, and it's going to be agreeable to move ahead," he said.

Kojzarek may not be vice chairman, but he's happy Lauzen put him in a position to showcase his talents.

"I like the big-picture strategic planning," Kojzarek said. "It's what I do in my professional life, and it's one of the reasons I ran for the board. I'm very fortunate the chairman has given me these opportunities."

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