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Persons tilting at Saugatuck Township windmills have a date—-Monday, Jan. 24—-to make voices heard.
A long-discussed planning commission proposal to regulate the energy-producing towers will be subject of a 7 p.m. public hearing in the township hall, 3461 Blue Star Hwy.
High winds can be expected, if debates elsewhere and a circular sent last week to township landowners are clues.
Michigan P.A. 295 of 2008, called the “clean energy act,” requires 10 percent of utilities’ energy production to be renewable by 2015 and creates incentives to study wind as an option. Among its sponsors was township resident and state Sen. Patty Birkholz.
It is one thing to want clean energy, another to have giant towers creating noise, shadow flicker, vibrations and more nearby you. The refrain “Not in my backyard” was heard.
When a 2009 report by the Michigan Wind Energy Resource Zone Board found Allegan County one of the top four onshore areas for wind-energy potential, many landowners saw opportunity to lease or sell space for towers. This predictably drew reactions.
In Monterey Township two board members, charged with conflict of interest for voting to regulate towers while leasing land for them, survived recall elections last month. Neighbor townships have experienced lively discussions on windmill standards.
A pink circular sent to area landowners last week, without a return address, called for “our fellow neighbors and taxpayers” to “attend next month’s planning commission meeting to voice your opinion and support the abolishing of wind turbines in Saugatuck Township.”
The communiqué, typed in all capitals and with numerous exclamation points, went on, “These eyesores not only lower property values, but are very dangerous. (Check out You tube.com/wind turbine explodes.)
“Ask yourself … do we want these in our backyards??” it continues. “Are they safe?? What happens to my property value?? Do they generate township revenue??
“We need to take back our township and let the commission and board know… this is our township, we pay the taxes and you need to hear us” (followed by 60 exclamation points).
Passions, among some, are high indeed.
The planning commission, wont to discuss matters both in depth and at length, took up wind energy turbines (WETs) early this year, leading to an Aug. 23 public hearing on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment.
“Wind energy turbines are allowed by the state and are coming here,” said commission chair Larry Edris. “Our question is, ‘Will the township establish procedures regarding sites, setbacks, noise, vibrations, quantity and more, or have standards set for us?’
“As it stands, a person can ask our zoning board of appeals for a variance for any such structure more than 30 feet tall,” Edris added. “That’s all the say we have.”
The Holland Board of Public Works is eyeing sites in Saugatuck, Ganges and other nearby townships to host WETs. Why, after all, should windmills be placed in Holland? The utility is paying SWMI Wind Energy Development of Grandville $125,000 for a one-year option to buy or lease easements it has with landowners and another $375,000 to determine whether the sites are useful for wind energy.
Based on an Ottawa County model ordinance, the local proposal discussed Aug. 23 allowed maximum tower heights of 300 feet (as adopted in neighboring Laketown Township) unless applicants demonstrated a need to go higher, with setbacks and other rules applying.
“That height limit is too low,” said SWMI representative Zach Bossenbrock. “Away from the shoreline (where his firm is looking) the wind is not as strong. Towers up to 500 feet are more feasible for commercial power generation.”
Large-scale operations would be allowed through special approval use only in A-1 (Agricultural) and I-1 (Industrial) districts, the draft then (and now) said. By and large, these would fall in the southeast portion of the township, with parcels large enough to meet setback requirements.
“Farm income could be augmented by allowing turbines on land,” commissioner Jim Hanson said.
Richard Runowski, who lives in the rural southeastern township, asked why the lakeshore was not suitable for WETs. Edris answered lots there are too small unless neighbors could combine properties.
Runowski asked what would happen to the turbines if a farm were foreclosed, how much fossil fuel is used making them, what scientific basis is used to establish their need and how well the township could enforce restrictions.
“If the planning commission is promoting WETs, they should be on the lakeshore,” said Runowski. “If the planning commission is trying to discourage them, they should be banned everywhere.”
“The commission is not promoting or discouraging WETs,” replied Edris; “only, given state policy, trying to control them where they’re proposed.”
Planners tabled action to discuss revisions based on talk heard that night and obtaining more information.
Blowin’ in the Wind
The amended amendment to be discussed Jan. 24 is nearly identical to the one in August, with the noteworthy changes of increasing maximum tower height from 300 feet to 500 feet and decreasing setback requirements from 1.5 times the tower height to 1.25 times.
It retains setbacks of 1,000 feet from occupied buildings and 400 feet from roads and utility lines, plus standards to minimize vibrations, noise and shadow flicker caused by towers. The complete proposed zoning text amendment, which runs 23 printed pages, may be reviewed at the township hall.
Neighbor Ganges Township, which plans its own hearing on rewriting ordinances Jan. 7, is also looking to allow windmills as high as 500 feet. “That’s pretty much the industry standard for inland WETs,” Ganges zoning administrator Tasha Smalley said.
None of which sits well with Vicki Lepior, who lives in the rural southeast of Saugatuck Township close to the Ganges line. Lepior, already contesting the township’s allowing a sand mine driveway to pass through a wetland near her home, wrote The Commercial Record Nov. 18 calling for residents to protest permitting “these worthless and hideous eyesores” in the community.
“They don’t work, they’re dangerous and they devalue neighbor properties,” Lepior said last week. “Chunks of ice fly off their blades during winters; that can be a big hazard here in Michigan. A few people leasing their land make money and Holland gets energy; how does Saugatuck Township benefit?
“It’s time we, the people here, make our voices heard!”
“We were only required to hold one public hearing on the amendment,” said Edris. “But we scheduled a second one to go over changes and allow residents to comment.
“Citizens do have a right to speak. We value that,” Edris said.
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