BLISSFIELD, Mich. – Members of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition claimed a victory Wednesday as the Riga Township board approved a zoning ordinance governing wind turbines.
“We are absolutely pleased with this. It was a very courageous vote by the board,” said Kevon Martis, an IICC director and a former Riga Township Planning Commission member. “They listened to the people.”
Key elements of the law require the setback from properties without a wind turbine to be four times the height of a turbine and limits the sound level to 40 decibels between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and 45 decibels between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The ordinance had been approved by the Riga Township Planning Commission in May, but turned down by the county planning commission in June. One amendment to the new zoning law requires noise levels to be measured from property lines instead of occupied dwellings. A second amendment stipulates corrections and compensation for television and radio signal interference.
The board approved the proposal on a 4-0 vote with Trustee Dick Beagle abstaining.
An amendment offered by Supervisor Jeff Simon that the setback be reduced to 1.1 times the height of the turbine died for lack of support. After some members of the audience booed, Simon said he made the motion as requested by the county planning commission.
“There is more than one side to a story,” he said. “I had to make the motion even if you don’t agree. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing my job.”
Josh Van Camp of Ogden Township is also a director of the IICC. Van Camp said he was pleased with the vote.
“This puts the burden back on the developers instead of the people in the township,” he said. “Now, we will focus on Ogden Township.”
The board heard two hours of public comment before voting on the ordinance. Thirty-nine people spoke – many asking the board to use common sense when enacting a zoning ordinance. However, there was disagreement on what constituted common sense.
A number of people, many of whom are members of the IICC, said they were not convinced of the validity of the claims of jobs that would be created nor with the level of technology used by the wind turbines. Still others said it was a type of development that was at odds with the township’s agricultural nature.
Sarah Smith of Riga said she is in favor of developing alternative sources of energy. However, the size of the proposed turbines is too big for Riga.
“We are talking about a large industrial (project) that does not fit in our rural area,” she said. “Take a cue from history. What are others wishing they had done differently? This is huge. This is industrial. If we don’t have all the answers, maybe we shouldn’t be doing this.”
Several people spoke in favor of the project, saying alternative sources of energy are needed.
“It is clean, renewable energy,” Ted Mason of Riga said
Attorney Mike Homier was hired by the township to help draw up the ordinance. He addressed some submitted questions and told the audience of several hundred people that the township is neither excluding nor permitting wind turbines, they are only regulating them.
Representatives of Great Lakes Wind LLC were disappointed with the ordinance and the vote. The Lenawee County-based company has done the most visible work on establishing wind turbines in Riga Township.
“I don’t know what this is going to do. I’m not an engineer,” said Larry Gould, who is president of Great Lakes Wind.
He said one option the company may look at is putting up smaller turbines. Doug Duimering, project manager said he was disappointed.
“We’ll have to go back and try to figure out what our next move might be,” he said.
Representatives from Juwi Wind Corp. attended but did not comment. Juwi, based in Cleveland, is one of the companies looking at Lenawee County and northwest Ohio as sites for wind turbines. Orisol Energy US Inc., is another. Great Lakes LLC, is affiliated with Exelon Wind, a division of Chicago-based Exelon Corp., a company with a variety of power-generating businesses.
The wind energy companies are seeking to erect some 200 wind towers in Fairfield, Riga, Palmyra and Ogden townships. Riga and Fairfield townships are developing zoning ordinances covering wind turbines.
Great Lakes has signed contracts with Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison to supply electricity. Gould previously explained that Riga is a good location because the wind is there and it is close to the transmission grid, which reduces the expense of developing the wind farm and bringing the energy to market.
The meeting had been originally scheduled for June 30 at the Riga Township Hall. However, nearly 300 people turned out and because the hall can only safely seat 200, the board postponed the meeting. The meeting Wednesday was in the Blissfield American Legion Hall.
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