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Friday, April 9, 2010

Grass-roots group wants vote on Rothchild biomass plant

From an article by Paul Snyder in The Daily Reporter:

A local dispute over a proposed $255 million biomass plant in Rothschild is morphing into a debate over whether the opposition can force a referendum on the project.

“Based on what our attorney’s said, I question the validity of any referendum they would offer,” said Rothschild Village President Neal Torney.

Yet Village Voice, a group organized in opposition to the We Energies project, still wants a special referendum. Paul Schwantes, a member of the group and owner of Wausau-based Sydney Development LLC, said if the village does not agree to a special referendum, he will force one during the November election.

“I need a petition with 330 signatures,” he said. “I can get that.”

We Energies has proposed building the plant on the site of the Domtar Corp. paper mill to produce 50 megawatts of electricity. Torney said the site is zoned for industrial use, so short of approving site plans such as storm water systems and the height of chimney stacks, Rothschild has little room to reject the project if the project complies with local zoning laws.

“I’m almost certain there would be a legal challenge if we did,” said Torney, who added the village is not spending money on the project.

But that does not prevent Village Voice from petitioning for a referendum, said Dale Thorpe, an attorney for Delavan-based Thorpe & Christian SC, which represents municipalities in the state. He said citizens have a right to petition for a referendum if they are unhappy with government expenditure.

Even though the village would not spend money on the project, Thorpe said, the law is broad enough to cover construction projects residents do not want.

“By the same logic,” he said, “it can be used on building, zoning or rezoning approvals or for residents that just want to see a project stopped.”

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