RIGA TWP., Mich. – Another piece of an ordinance covering wind turbines is in place in Riga Township. On a 5-0 vote Monday night, the township planning commission approved setback distances for the energy-generating machines.
Two companies have signed leases and are looking to put up wind turbines in Riga and Ogden townships as a source of renewable energy. A series of informational meetings have been held to educate residents on the projects and to help the planning commission develop zoning ordinances to regulate the turbines. Ogden has no zoning ordinances, while Riga’s is more than 30 years old and does not allow any structure taller than 40 feet. The turbines could be as tall as 500 feet.
Local officials have all said the turbines will not be built until the ordinances are in place. The rules can spell out acceptable noise levels, height and other factors. At its September meeting, the Riga Township board extended a previously set six-month moratorium to one year on any action regarding wind turbines. This will give the planning commission time to write an ordinance that addresses as many concerns as possible.
“This is such an infant industry. There hasn’t been enough data collected,” chairman Reg Karg said. “We have to err on the side of caution and go with something that may not be an industry standard.”
The commission approved parameters for setbacks that are 2,640 feet from non-participating parcels, or 1,000 feet if a waiver is signed; 1,320 for participating properties, those with signed leases; and 1,000 feet from roads and railroads. Planners stressed that the ordinance is far from complete and will still have to go through public hearings before the planning commission makes a final recommendation to the township board.
“We need to err on the side of protecting our citizens. The only protection anybody in this room has is the ordinance we write,” said Kevon Martis, commission vice chairman. “This ordinance doesn’t have to be forever. We can make it so it can be amended.”
Prior to the board’s discussion on setbacks, Eugene Champagne of Oliver Township addressed the audience about his experiences of living near the wind turbines near Ubly. He urged the citizens and the commission to take their time and write a comprehensive ordinance.
“I ended up in a very, very bad situation. I’ve got six turbines under a half-mile around my home,” Champagne said. “There are a lot of issues to look at. I’ve seen this (issue) tear townships apart. It’s not pleasant to see. I hope you come up with a good ordinance.”
He said three of the turbines, which are smaller than the ones planned for Riga and Ogden townships, are located 1,350 feet, 1,400 feet and 1,450 feet from his home. He described the flicker effect that occurs when the sun shines through the blades, and problems with communications, including interruption of his television signal. Champagne said the noise often sounds as loud as someone carrying on a normal conversation outside his bedroom window.
“(Oliver Township) is a self-zoning township and the township board is not helping me,” he said. “My recommendation is to not put the complaint mechanism in the hands of the developer. (Homeowners) have to have protection.”
Champagne said he is not anti-wind energy by any means. He just urged the township to take its time and write a good, strong ordinance so residents don’t have to go through what he has.
“I have no idea how this will affect my property value, either,” he said after the meeting.
The planning commission will continue with its once-a-month meetings to work on drafting the ordinance. At the Nov. 1 meeting, the commission will discuss how much distance should be between turbines. Work will also start on noise levels.
Two residents talked about a Sept. 25 tour of the Ubly wind turbines. Paul Wielfaert and Bill Reed both said they were surprised at how quiet the wind turbines were. Reed had a decibel meter and measured the noise level as he walked around the base. He said traffic levels made the meter jump more than the turbines did.
“I was surprised at how quiet they were,” Wielfaert said. “If you live along U.S. 223, you’ve got a hell of a lot more noise than you would with this.”
Michael Homier, the attorney contracted to help write the ordinances, will take the setback numbers and incorporate them into what has been developed so far. Information on the issue is available at the township’s website, www.rigatownship.com.
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