Nearly two years after announcing a $144 million ethanol plant west of Rockford, a Schaumburg developer has yet to break ground on the controversial project.

Nearly two years after announcing a $144 million ethanol plant west of Rockford, a Schaumburg developer has yet to break ground on the controversial project.


Wight Partners first applied for a zoning change for the project in December 2005 and originally hoped to start construction in summer 2006. Now company officials are tight-lipped about the future of the plant and did not return phone calls to the Register Star.


Still, Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen, a proponent of the project, remains hopeful.


“When I talked to the company last week, they said they are planning on moving forward,” Christiansen said. “Their worst-case scenario was that they would break ground in the summer. Best-case scenario, they said, they’d start in the spring.”


As envisioned, the project would sit on 60 acres in the 1900 block of South Meridian Road. An adjacent 40 acres would host a rail yard to transport ethanol. The plant would employ 45 workers and produce up to 100 million gallons of the corn-based fuel a year.


Last year, the County Board approved a zoning change to accommodate the project. Residents who live near the site filed a lawsuit against the county and Wight Partners complained that the county’s zoning process was flawed.


Homeowners said they were denied their right to speak at a public hearing for the project and were not allowed to submit evidence supporting their concerns about how the ethanol plant’s water usage would affect their residential wells.


That lawsuit was settled earlier this year for an undisclosed amount, but residents have filed a new complaint alleging that Wight Partners hasn’t paid the settlement according to terms of the agreement. A confidentiality clause prohibits both parties from disclosing settlement terms.


The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will delay the project further if construction doesn’t start next summer. The state agency approved a construction permit Aug. 17 that regulates the amount of air emissions the plant would produce. Company officials must repeat the permit process, which could take up to a year, if construction doesn’t begin by Aug. 17, 2008, said IEPA spokeswoman Maggie Carson.


Wight Partners will return to the Winnebago County Courthouse Nov. 29 for a hearing regarding the settlement payment.


Staff writer Isaac Guerrero can be reached at 815-987-1371 or iguerrero@rrstar.com.