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Lakeshore areas look to McBain as they decide on large wind proposals

Tonight in Ludington a public hearing will be held on county rules for wind farms.

Proposals to build large scale wind turbines along the coast of Lake Michigan have generated controversy in northern Michigan in recent months. To get first-hand experience many officials and citizens have travelled to McBain, where 19 windmills have gone up in the past two years.

A Trip To McBain
Matt Morché’s home near McBain is 600 feet from one of the electricity-generating windmills owned by Heritage Sustainable Energy of Traverse City. He’s seen visitors from Ludington lately, and other towns struggling with proposed wind farms. They want to know what it’s like living among the Stoney Creek Wind development there. Morché tells them that it can get a bit noisy, particularly when the wind is high or when they ice up.

“They say it’s as much as 8 decibels, which is like a washing machine in your room when you’re trying to sleep,” Morché said.

Morché’s wife has trouble sleeping with the whooshing noise, so the couple now keeps a fan running in their bedroom to mask it.

Stoney Corners wind farm in Missaukee County has grown to 19 windmills in the past two years.

Concerns Of Noise, Flicker
A much larger development is proposed for Mason and Benzie counties, so residents and officials from there have traveled to McBain to see what to expect if it is approved. People living near the proposed development worry about the noise, how it affects the views, as well as flickering shadows on their windows. Missaukee County’s Richland Township has no zoning rules for wind farms, so the development here experienced relatively smooth sailing.

Morché wishes he had known more when the windmills were being planned.

“If I had known what I know now, I would have protested and maybe they wouldn’t be so close to the house,” he said.

No Complaints
A lot of people here have no complaints about the wind farm. Phil Brunink, a dairy farmer, is one of them. He lives about a quarter of a mile from a turbine that is on his own property.

“At no point in time is it an annoying sound, even when they’re turning in heavy winds,” he said. “It’s kind of like an airplane a long ways away.”

Brunink also says he’s noticed flickering shadows on his home’s windows at times, but that doesn’t bother him either.

Many around here say people’s perspectives are affected by how much money they make from the wind turbines. Everyone who owns land within a township section that has one receives a monthly check. The amount is based on how many acres a person owns within the section. Farmers who own hundreds of acres may receive thousands of dollars per month.

Jon Schierbeek, a Richland Township trustee owns five acres and receives about $35 per month from Heritage. He lives across the road from a turbine and notices the sound, but says it hasn’t been a major nuisance. He thinks most of his neighbors feel the same way.

“I would say there’s probably more people for it than against it,” Schierbeek said.

He does hear all the usual complaints and even discovered a new one.

Throwing Ice
“There’s ice that flicks off of them once in a while,” he said. “The sun beats on them and they start chucking ice.”

On one occasion, officials closed a road because of flying ice.

Rick Wilson, a vice president of Heritage, said the company monitors the weather and the turbines generally turn off when they ice up. As for people who say the noise is too much, Wilson suggests they contact the company.

“If somebody has problems and they’re brought to us – and we agree with the situation – there’s mitigation strategies that can be put into place,” Wilson said.

Even Matt Morché, living 600 feet from a turbine can paint a balanced picture.

“There’s shadows,” he said. “They do make noise. And when they’re building them, there’s mass construction going on and there’s a lot of guys.

“But they do a fabulous job. They clean up nice and they build nice roads.”