A controversial zoning conditional use permit that was granted last year for a new wind farm near the town of Two Rivers was vacated April 3 by Manitowoc County Circuit Court Judge Patrick Willis.
Willis ruled in favor of five plaintiffs – George Patek, Jeffrey and Anita Roberts, and Dean and Clara Pekarek – who live near the Emerging Energies, LLC-proposed wind farm.
The Manitowoc County Board of Adjustment had failed to act “according to law” when the permit was approved because it did not apply the most recently amended version of the Manitowoc County Wind Energy Ordinance, according to the court decision.
The amended ordinance was adopted by the county Board of Supervisors in April 2006 and became effective a month later. The ordinance requires a 1,000-foot setback for wind turbines from a neighbor’s property line, while allowing an easement for a lesser setback if an adjacent landowner agrees. Emerging Energies filed an application for its seven-turbine development in April 2005.
“This is a major victory for the plaintiffs and everyone else who was concerned that the proposed wind farm was essentially rubber-stamped by the Board of Adjustment,” said Glenn Stoddard, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “If Emerging Energies reapplies it will have to do so under the amended ordinance and the Board of Adjustment would have to make a rational decision based on the law and the evidence presented.”
Stoddard added that Emerging Energies would be much better off trying to locate its proposed wind farm elsewhere where “it would not cause a nuisance or lead to further litigation.”
But Edward Ritger, an attorney representing Emerging Energies, said the ruling, in effect, bars Emerging Energies from developing a wind farm in the county because the amended ordinance’s setbacks make it mathematically impossible to fit a turbine on an average-sized farm or property. The location of at least six of the seven proposed turbines will not comply with the amended ordinance, he said.
Emerging Energies is evaluating its legal options, which include a court appeal, another court case to challenge the legality of the amended county large wind ordinance under state law, or lobbying the county to make changes to the amended ordinance.
Other wind energy developers have turned cold to the idea of building in Manitowoc County since the county adopted the amended ordinance, Ritger said.
“I don’t think a lot of the county’s citizens and officials realize the impact of the new ordinance,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for the county. Basically, by outlawing wind turbines, you’re saying no to economic development from wind energy.”
Local farmers are being denied an opportunity to use their farmland to install personal or commercial wind turbines, he said, because the new ordinance is effectively a ban on wind energy.
“When you take surveys of public opinion, the majority of people support wind energy,” he said. “It’s just a small group of people who have used the county to get their way at this point.”
Calls to Manitowoc County Corporation Council Steve Rollins were not returned immediately on Friday.
By Kristopher Wenn
Herald Times Reporter
7 April 2007