BAD AXE – A public hearing will be conducted early next month regarding a new wind district to facilitate the expansion of Harvest Wind 1, following action by the Huron County Planning Commission Wednesday.
“It’s a 59.4 megawatt expansion of Harvest Wind I, it’s going to be referred to as Harvest Wind II wind park and it encompasses land in McKinley, Chandler and Oliver townships,” said Huron County Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg. “The county will be holding a public hearing on the expansion of the overlay district in McKinley Township encompassing Sections 35 and 36. Then the other two townships handle their own zoning approval for the balance of the project, with the total new development consisting of 59.4 megawatts.”
Lundberg explained the district request was submitted by RMT, the engineering firm representing Exelon Corporation, which has acquired John Deere’s wind energy business, including Harvest Wind I in Oliver and Chandler townships and Michigan Wind I in Bingham and Sheridan townships.
The request submitted to the county identifies two square mile sections in McKinley Township that need to be included in a wind overlay district in order to facilitate Harvest Wind II, Lundberg said. He noted if the project consists of 2 megawatt turbines, there would be 30 turbines in Harvest Wind II. If it uses 1.8 megawatt turbines, it would consist of 32 to 33 turbines. But only about four of Harvest Wind II’s turbines would be in McKinley Township – the rest would be in Oliver and Chandler townships, which are not under county zoning. Currently, in the Harvest Wind I project, there are five turbines in Chandler Township and 27 in Oliver.
Lundberg said from an approval standpoint, the county’s role only is in regard to McKinley Township, and the public hearing the county will hold only will be in regard to the proposed 2-square mile district.
He said the developer’s request for the district stresses the need for some rather swift action in terms of getting it to the public hearing process.
“They want this project built and online by the end of 2012,” Lundberg said.
Because the proposed district is so small, Lundberg said he only will have to send about 25 to 30 notices. Per state law, the county has to notify those living in or within 300 feet of the proposed district boundary line.
The creation of a wind district is just the first step in the lengthy process of creating a wind development, and additional approval is needed in order for a development to be constructed. In order to create an overlay district, the planning commission has to conduct a public hearing and then make a recommendation to the Huron County Board of Commissioners to adopt an ordinance amendment creating the district. An amendment creating a wind overlay district does not change any existing text or standards for wind energy developments in Huron County. Rather, it is an amendment that alters the proposed district area from a zoning classification of agriculture to a zoning classification of agriculture with a wind overlay district.
The county previously went through the process of creating an overlay district in McKinley Township for DTE Energy. However, that did not encompass Sections 35 and 36, which are on the southern edge of the current wind district. Lundberg said this is a lesson to consider when determining future district boundaries, because if the original district boundaries were larger, the need to go through the process of creating a wind overlay district wouldn’t have been necessary for this expansion.
Concerns of numerous future hearings, ballot referendums
Because the county knows Midland Energy has a large number of leases to the west of the newly proposed boundaries in McKinley Township, Planning Commissioner Clark Brock asked whether it would be best for the planning commission to hold off on scheduling a hearing for Harvest Wind II until Midland Energy submits its request for a wind district. That way, the county could create the boundaries to include both Harvest Wind II and the project proposed by Midland Energy.
“I would hate to see us do this and six months from now, have them request to go back (and expand the boundaries),” he said.
Lundberg said he previously discussed the issue with Midland Energy, and that opportunity will emerge, but “the question is do we want to hold off on this for another month and see whether or not Midland Energy is willing to provide some documents and an application to coordinate, and whether RMT or Harvest Wind II is willing to coordinate.”
Brock was concerned the planning commission could end up having public hearings every three months for the next two years.
Lundberg noted the area Midland Energy is looking at is a bit more taxing, and has more issues than the Harvest Wind II area, and it could slow up the process for Harvest Wind II if the two were combined.
Planning commissioners also were concerned that in addition to needing frequent public hearings, the county could also end up having just as many ballot referendums, resulting in the state preempting local zoning.
November 2010 was the first ballot referendum asking voters to confirm the creation of wind districts. County Proposals 1 & 2 each passed by more than 600 votes. They confirmed the creation of a wind overlay district in portions of McKinley Township, which was requested by DTE Energy, and another one, which was requested by DTE Energy and Heritage Sustainable Energy, in portions of Bloomfield, Rubicon and Sigel Townships.
The wind district for Harvest Wind I was not put up for a vote. Nor was the district for Michigan Wind I, though there were efforts to create a referendum. However, they were unsuccessful.
While McKinley Township’s portion of the district being requested for Harvest Wind II only is 2 square miles and would only have about four turbines, there were concerns there still could be a ballot referendum because the amendment creating the new district would be subject to the same standards/law that others have been.
Planners discuss proposed zoning ordinance updates
Also during Wednesday’s meeting, planning commissioners reviewed a draft of proposed revisions to the county’s zoning ordinance.
The board has been in the process of working on updating the ordinance for quite some time, though this project often was put on the back burner because of other issues, specifically wind energy- related items.
In regard to the wind energy portion of the zoning ordinance, one of the proposed updates would make L90 the standard for measuring ambient noise.
“The L90 really is what we should be using as an ambient standard,” Lundberg said.
Other revisions in the draft include overlay zones for airport protection, flood zones, high risk and environmental areas. Other proposed language allows for business buildings for contractors and similar types of use in the agricultural district. If approved, this would be a use after special approval, Lundberg said. Currently, there are these types of structures, including structures for nonagricultural storage use that exist, but are not legal. Making them an allowed use after special approval would result in safer buildings because these structures will need building inspections/ permits.
County planners will review the draft updates over the next month. Lundberg said the process needs to be wrapped up soon, and the goal is to have the ordinance out for a public hearing mid-2011 and then have the updated ordinance approved by the end of the year.
Another project that’s been in the works, but on the back burner for quite some time, is the Huron County Masterplan update.
Lundberg said he currently is in the process of collecting 2010 Census information. Because there’s a whole new set of Census data available, it’s the perfect time to rewrite the county’s masterplan, which hasn’t been completely updated since 1993, he said.
The next step will be to scheduleworkshops/visioning sessions to get input relative to future land use, Lundberg said. He noted the goal of the masterplan is to encourage new residential, commercial and industrial development near existing community centers where there’s existing, or there’s the possibility of getting, city sewer/water infrastructure.
That concept already is in the masterplan, but it’s going to be updated in the revision. The revision will include more emphasis on health services, schools, etc. and their proximity to core community areas. For example, there currently is a variety of rural clinics and hospitals in different portions of the county. The goal would be to have that continue, rather than having all health services located in one central area of the county, Lundberg said.
Planning Commissioner Robert Oaks said there’s pressure to centralize health and educational services, and the county needs to work with local cities, townships, schools, hospitals, etc. so everyone’s prepared and know what changes are coming down the road, and they are organized and working together.
The next Huron County Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 2 in Room 305 of the County Building. That meeting will include the public hearing for the proposed district requested for Harvest Wind II.
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