Whether Consumes Energy’s special land use application request meets the nine guidelines of approval set in the county zoning ordinance was debated Tuesday night at a public hearing on the matter.
The Mason County Planning Commission held a public hearing on Consumers Energy’s proposed wind farm for Riverton and Summit townships Tuesday night at West Shore Community College’s Center Stage Theater.
Prior to public comment, presentations were given by Consumers Energy-hired consultants, Jay Kilpatrick of Williams & Works, who is a consultant hired by the county, and from experts arranged by Citizens Alliance for Responsible Renewable Energy.
In order for the special land use application to be approved, it must meet all nine standards established in the zoning ordinance. The project must:
• be in accordance with the goals and objectives of the Mason County Comprehensive Plan.
• be designed, constructed, operated, and maintained in harmony with the existing or intended character of the general vicinity and that such a use will not change the essential character of the area in which it is proposed.
• not be hazardous or disturbing to existing or future permitted uses in the same general vicinity and in the community as a whole.
• be served adequately by essential public facilities and services, such as highways, streets, police and fire protection, storm water drainage, refuse disposal, water and sewage facilities, and schools – or persons or agencies responsible for the establishment of the proposed use shall be able to provide adequately for such services.
• not create excessive additional requirements at public cost for facilities and services and will not be detrimental to the economic welfare of the community.
• not involve uses, activities, processes, materials and equipment, or conditions of operation that will be detrimental to any person, property, or general welfare by reason of excessive production of traffic, noise, vibration, smoke, fumes, glare, or odors.
• ensure that the environment shall be preserved in its natural state, insofar as practicable, by minimizing tree and soil removal, adequate setback from water courses, and by topographic modifications which result in maximum harmony with adjacent areas.
• not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of surrounding property for uses permitted within the zoning district.
• comply with the requirements of this ordinance, including access management and the Highway Overlay District.
Vincent Provenzano, an attorney representing Consumers Energy, outlined these standards and told the planning commission that he believes Consumers Energy’s application complies with them.
Kilpatrick, who was hired by Mason County to review Consumers Energy’s application, said he would recommend the plan for conditional approval by the planning commission.
Kilpatrick also outlined the nine criteria expectations and said how he felt the application was in compliance. Some of the areas he said he had questions on were the ice shedding section of the application and how that would be dealt with. He also reminded Consumers that it would need to have a company sign with contact information at the access road and on the base of the turbine.
Kilpatrick also suggested that minor site adjustments not exceed 250 feet shifts.
The planning commission is not required to follow Kilpatrick’s recommendations. They can pick and choose areas for conditional changes.
Kilpatrick said he found a basis for the planning commission to find in favor of the application and believes the application meets the balance of the standards required.
Cary Shineldecker, a Riverton Township resident and president of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Renewable Energy, introduced the group and said its purpose is to educate the public and government officials on the adverse effects of industrial-scale wind energy systems.
Shineldecker said he disagrees that the application meets all of the standards for approval outlined in the zoning ordinance, as he believes residential and rural estates property owners will be negatively impacted in their property values.
He said he believes the application cannot be approved based on adverse health effects, adverse effects on properties and the adverse effects on Riverton and Summit townships.
Karen Fergusen, an attorney representing CARRE was the next to speak on the organization’s behalf.
She said neither the county nor Consumers has studied the possibility of diminishing property values, which could drop if the project is approved.
The group also presented the planning commission with binders of information, including a petition with 588 signatures stating the application doesn’t meet the zoning ordinance standards due to detrimental impacts.
Robert Rand of Rand Acoustics was the next expert to address the planning commission. Rand, who was in Maine, connected with the planning commission through an internet conference.
Rand said he reviewed the ambient and acoustic sound studies submitted by Consumers for their project and criticized those studies.
Noise limits of 45 decibels, the level allowed for unpooled property owners in Mason County, are too high to prevent an adverse community noise impact from the turbines, Rand said.
He cited wind farms in other states with similar requirements who are now facing law suits.
In contrast to the opinions of Kilpatrick and Consumers Energy’s hired sound consultant, Peter Guldberg, Rand found that the proposed wind farm would, as designed, very likely exceed the sound requirements at numerous locations.
He said more of a margin of error should have been included in the studies and that in his experience, a project isn’t designed “right to the wire.” Consumers Energy’s sound studies show 45 decibel sound limits at the boundary line of some unpooled parcels – which is the maximum level allowed.
Guldberg later argued that a margin of error was taken into account when the studies were done and that the most conservative situations were used to predict sound levels.
Consumers Energy submitted its application when county standards allowed for 55 decibels for unpooled property owners. The county has since adopted an amendment to its zoning ordinance allowing 45 decibels at the property line of an unpooled property.
Rand also questioned the lack of a community reaction assessment done for the facility.
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