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Wind district public hearing set for March

BAD AXE – A public hearing will be held late next month regarding a new wind district to facilitate Pheasant Run, a possible wind farm on the southwest side of the county, following action by the Huron County Planning Commission Wednesday.

Pheasant Run is one of two projects that RES Americas submitted requests for new wind districts in September 2010.

The districts are for two projects that, combined, will be in the neighborhood of 500 megawatts, said Brad Lila, of RES Americas, during the October 2010 planning commission meeting. He estimated the combined projects will consist of 200 to 250 turbines.

The first wind district RES Americas requested was for Deerfield Wind Farm, a project in the northeast portion of the county. As of the beginning of August 2010, RES Americas had leases for that project in sections of Bloomfield, Dwight, Gore, Huron and Lincoln townships.

The second wind district RES Americas requested was for Pheasant Run, a project in which RES Americas has leased parcels scattered throughout Oliver, Sebewaing, Brookfield, Fairhaven, Winsor and Grant townships. Determining boundaries for this proposed wind district will be especially difficult because three of those townships are under county zoning, and the remaining four are independently-zoned, Huron County Building and Zoning Director Russ Lundberg previously explained.

Therefore, it was noted, it would behoove the county to work with the other townships in order to have matching boundary lines from one zoning jurisdiction to another. Also, officials, in October 2010, noted a map of general interest that roughly outlines all the parcels leased by developers was needed before the planning commission could define future wind district boundaries.

Since October 2010, the county has been able to create a map of general interest showing planners “the big picture” as to what areas in the county are under lease with wind developers.

During Thursday’s meeting, Lundberg said RES Americas is looking at setting some boundaries very soon, and right now the focus is on Pheasant Run. However, just because a preliminary planning area is approved, it does not mean there will be a project created there, Lundberg added.

He said the county will be the driving force in terms of cooperation between the four zoning jurisdictions within that area, which include the county and Sebewaing, Brookfield and Oliver Townships. By working together, RES will be able to develop one site plan review document for the four different jurisdictions.

Sean Flannery, permitting specialist for RES Americas, said the company is in the early stages of the project. Because Pheasant Run is located in six townships, it’s quite a puzzle to put together considering the number of jurisdictions and residents in the area, he said.

However, Flannery said, RES Americas hopes to use the three county-zoned townships (Fairhaven, Winsor and Grant) as the first pieces of the puzzle to fit to see if the company can have a project move forward in that area of the county. To begin putting those puzzle pieces together, the company needs a wind district approved so planning can move forward.

Flannery said the biggest question now is where in the three county townships can RES Americas pursue a project. And that is why they were requesting a wind overlay district.

Before a wind district is approved, the planning commission has to hold a public hearing, then make a formal recommendation of adoption to the Huron County Board of Commissioners, which then grants final approval.

Prior to the planning commission’s vote to hold a public hearing, Planning Commissioner Fred Hasen asked what form of financial support RES Americas would give the company if the state eliminates the personal property tax, which is the only tax levied on wind turbines.

Flannery said RES Americas is not supporting proposed legislation to eliminate personal property tax. He said he can’t specifically say what the company would do in the absence of the personal property tax.

But, in states that do not have the personal property tax, it’s not uncommon to form an agreement with counties, Flannery said. So if the landscape in Michigan changes and there is no personal property tax in the future, RES Americas would be interested in making some sort of agreement, he said.

Planning commissioners voted to set the public hearing for March 30 at the Expo Center.

The next Huron County Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 2 in Room 305 of the County Building.