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'Forest Voice' attorneys fined

Attorneys who helped the Forest Voice citizen organization file a lawsuit that included developer Emerging Energies of Wisconsin, LLC, as a defendant have been fined.

In a decision dated Sept. 30, District Judge William M. Conley of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the claims against EEW by leaders of the Forest Voice, and attorneys Glenn Stoddard and Patricia Keahna, were "frivolous."

The judge noted that a private company could not be held accountable for alleged violations of open meeting laws, and that only public officials have the responsibility to ensure that proper procedures are followed.

"We have been completely transparent through this entire process as we've tried to bring clean, renewable energy to St. Croix County," said Jay Mundinger, founding principal of Emerging Energies. "Some very responsible town officials lost their jobs after initially approving our Highland Wind Farm project two years ago, and we've been fighting ever since. We feel a level of vindication here."

The court ordered Stoddard to pay EEW $1,000 and Keahna $500 for pulling the private entity into the lawsuit, which also named the Town of Forest and the former members of the town board as defendants.

Stoddard said he disagreed with the court's decision and is considering filing a motion to reconsider the matter.

Stoddard said he still contends that Emerging Energies "conspired and concocted an illegal plan" that led to an agreement for the proposed wind farm.

"The complaint further alleged that this and other actions of Emerging Energies in concert with the former Town of Forest Board members, including alleged conflicts of interest by some former board members with Emerging Energies, violated my clients' constitutional due process and equal protection rights," he explained. "Based on my research I believed I had a good faith basis for naming Emerging Energies as a defendant in the case, even though it is a private entity."

Stoddard noted the decision only dealt with Emerging Energies and whether it should have been named as a defendant in the case, and it denied a motion for sanctions that was filed by the former Town of Forest Board members.

"The decision also denied Emerging Energies' request that we be required to pay its attorneys' fees and costs, holding that this would be 'too steep of a penalty' under the circumstances," he added.

The proposed Forest Township project consisting of 41 turbines will generate 102.5 megawatts of electricity once completed, enough to power 30,000 homes.

After receiving initial approval from the town of Forest board and its three members in 2010, the board members were all recalled. The new board eventually rescinded previous approvals and has attempted to stop development of Highland Wind Farm.

According to Brenda Salseg, a Forest Voice member, the Forest residents who oppose the Highland project remain undeterred by the news.

"I am not surprised that the partners of Emerging Energies/Highland Wind Farm are utilizing Judge Conley's statements to further their public relations spin," she said. "The bottom line, however, remains the same; the proposed industrial wind project for the town of Forest is unconstitutional and a public health and welfare threat to a densely populated rural area."

She said industrial wind is inefficient and that more information about the harm turbines cause is coming out.

"My concern is that the knowledge will not outpace the taxpayer funding," she said, alluding to the tax benefits provided for developers of wind farms.