An attorney representing owners of property adjacent to an electrical substation approved by Elmwood Township have appealed the decision, and are hoping to obtain a court decision preventing construction.
Attorney Jim Pagels of Gaylord expects to prevail at a 13th Circuit Court hearing scheduled for April 7. He said Wolverine Power Cooperative has agreed not to begin working on the project until April 15.
The controversial substation was first approved in a letter dated Aug. 16 from former Elmwood Township zoning administrator Don Witkowski after conferring with township attorney Jim Young. Lisa and Mason Argue, who are developing a subdivision near the 7.8 acres substation site, appealed Witkowski’s decision to the township Zoning Board of Appeals.
The ZBA at the end of a marathon, 6-hour meeting held Feb. 6 upheld Witkowski’s decision with a 3-2 vote.
Pagels alleged in the appeal that Elmwood’s administrative process in approving the substation was flawed. “A utility should not be exempt from zoning,” he said.
Wolverine Power Cooperative is partnering with Cherryland Electric Cooperative, Consumers Energy and Traverse City Light & Power to build the substation, which the power companies say is needed to keep up with growing electrical needs in Leelanau County and Traverse City. Wolverine has signed an agreement to buy 7.8 acres from Elmwood trustee Terry Lautner, who has been criticized by Pagels and other opponents. Lautner is a member of the Cherryland board of directors, and is a former member of the Wolverine board of directors.
The substation would be set back 300 feet from Bugai Road, and more than 1,000 feet from M-72. Its tallest structures will be 79 feet, although Wolverine said existing trees screen the site to the north and east and more trees will be planted for screening from other views.
Pagels, however, has said the plant will greatly diminish the value of the Argues’ subdivision. He is also representing 80-year-old Josephine Bargeil, who has said at public meetings that worries over the substation created health problems for her.
Pagels, in an accompanying press release, stated that Lautner’s comments during the ZBA meeting, a failure of the ZBA to address whether the substation will serve the “public health or safety or general welfare” as required in the township ordinance, and Wolverine’s explanation for moving its preferred site from Garfield to Elmwood Township will help overturn the ZBA ruling.
“Wolverine contended that the substation was necessary to allow the Consumers Power distribution system to back up the Wolverine and TCL&P distribution system in the event of a failure. However, almost immediately after the hearing, it was revealed…that Wolverine was attempting to purchase a part interest in a coal-fired power plant in Rogers City, and planned to construct a wind farm in Charlevoix. Therefore, far from being a mere back up, Pagels stated that it appears that Wolverine and TCL&P are using this substation as a primary conduit for power from its planned $100 million investments,” the press release stated.
Nancy Tanner, director of communications for Wolverine, said Pagels press release was inaccurate. The electrical substation, she said, is required to transport electricity to Leelanau County regardless of where that electricity is generated. There is no reason to push electricity into Leelanau if it is not needed.
Also, Wolverine has been moving toward construction of the Rogers City plant for two years, throughout which time the licensing process has generated many media reports, she said. And the wind field in Charlevoix County is being pursued by Traverse City Light & Power, not Wolverine.
Elmwood supervisor Derith Smith said regardless of which side prevails, the township will likely incur more legal costs. She expected an attorney representing the township to attend the hearing. Elmwood was not directly named in the motion seeking to stay the ZBA decision.
Both sides are confident they will prevail in court.
“We are confident with our position and legal team. We look forward to getting started on the project as soon as possible,” said Tanner. Completion is expected in early 2009.
Countered Pagels: “The entire approval process of the substation was improper because the zoning administrator never should have been involved in the decision at all.”
27 March 2008
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