RIGA TWP., Mich. – The Riga Township Planning Commission has a special meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16. The board will hear from an expert in wind turbine zoning ordinances as work continues on drawing up a document for Riga.
Great Lakes LLC, one of two companies seeking to put wind turbines in Riga, Ogden and Palmyra townships, will pay for the speaker’s visit. Planning commission chairman Reg Karg said funding for the meeting will be split.
“It will be funded in part by Great Lakes, which is paying for the expert to come in. They will not pay for the board to be at that meeting,” Karg said. “The township board is paying the planning commission for the meeting.”
The planning commission was approached at its regular meeting Monday night by Great Lakes LLC, which is affiliated with the John Deere Corp., with an offer to pay the cost of bringing an expert to a special planning commission meeting to discuss the ordinance.
Great Lakes LLC is one of two companies seeking to put wind turbines in Riga, Ogden and Palmyra townships. Former Lenawee County Commission Chairman Larry Gould heads the firm and said his group offered to bring Huron County building inspector Russell Lundberg to the meeting in Riga.
“We recommended that they bring him in for a resource, as he has a great deal of experience in these matters. We’ll pay the expenses for him to come,” Gould said. “We also know that the township planning commission has exceeded its budget for this year and the township board is having to cover some of their expenses.”
Township supervisor Jeff Simon announced the offer from Great Lakes at Monday night’s meeting. Riga trustee Paul Dusseau said he was taken by surprise by the announcement.
“I’ve never heard anything like it before,” Dusseau said.
The offer is not unprecedented in Michigan. In response to an e-mail, Catherine Mullhaupt, director of member information services for the Michigan Townships Association, said it is relatively common in townships where the planning commission doesn’t meet many times a year on a regular basis.
While Great Lakes is not paying the Riga Planning Commission’s per diem, Mullhaupt said a private interest could conceivably pay the cost, provided everything is in accordance with the Open Meetings Act.
“This approach enables the township to assist the applicant in meeting urgent outside deadlines, while protecting the township budget from unlimited or unexpected overruns on costs to conduct meetings, such as per diems, but also including additional staff hours, costs for the township’s planning consultant, attorney or other consultant to attend an additional meeting, and in some cases, where the township hall isn’t used regularly, additional staff, maintenance and energy costs to make the hall available,” Mullhaupt wrote.
She also added that a township may have a policy that, if an applicant wishes to have an application for a planning or zoning approval heard before the next regular meeting of the planning commission, the applicant must pay a fee to cover all or part of the costs of calling and holding a special meeting.
The Riga Township Planning Commission meets on the first Monday of each month and has been developing a zoning ordinance covering wind turbines. The board has also dealt with routine business.
Great Lakes LLC and J.W. Great Lakes, which is based in Cleveland and affiliated with a German company, have been securing leases on agricultural property for more than a year in Riga, Palmyra and Ogden townships. Both groups are looking to put up wind turbines as a source of renewable energy. Great Lakes LLC has contracts with both Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison for the power, said Doug Duimering, business development manager for John Deere.
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. So, the township planning commission has spent the past six months developing ordinances.
Riga officials have 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. The township has contracted with attorney Michael Homier to help write the ordinances. Information on the issue is available at the township’s website, www.rigatownship.com.
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.
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