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New Riga ordinance doesn’t leave space for divisive wind turbines

BLISSFIELD, Mich. – Riga Township’s newly amended ordinance to build turbines on township property leaves no room to actually construct the turbines, wind-power developers said Friday.

But some community members are discussing a referendum petition that would let Riga residents vote down the ordinance, leaving room for the development of new regulations.

“[The farming community and the wind-farming community] realize the situation and I think they’ll push for a referendum too,” resident Paul Wohlfarth said. “I expect it’ll probably go to a referendum vote.”

Wind-power developers said amendments to an ordinance involving sound and setbacks between turbines and property lines are too restrictive for a single turbine to be placed in Riga – the first among four townships slated for wind energy development.

The township board approved the ordinance Wednesday night at a meeting attended by about 500 people. Developers are looking at land in Riga, and some of its township neighbors – Ogden, Palmyra, and Fairfield – for construction of the turbines. The issue has been controversial, with opponents expressing concerns about possible noise, pollution, and health issues.

According to Riga’s ordinance, any turbines the developers build must be set back from properties a distance of four times the height of the turbine, which would be almost 500 feet in height. Additionally, the turbines must not produce noise that exceeds 45 decibels during the day, and 40 at night.

Doug Duimering, Exelon Wind’s regional manager of business development, said there is no space in the 4,500 acres the company has leased in Riga that will allow the turbines to meet the standards for both sound and distance.

“There’s just no room,” Mr. Duimering said. “On the land we control, which is a significant portion of land, there is nowhere we can meet the requirements for setback and sound.”

With the restrictions in mind, the company continues to consider options for its 45-turbine project, Mr. Duimering said.

A few Lenawee County citizens with farmland in Riga said they hope voters request a referendum for the sake of alternative energy.

When Charles Marr of Morenci – whose wife, Irene, has leased her Riga land to turbine developers – heard the ordinance might be too restrictive for the turbines, he said he would like to see changes to the ordinances that would accommodate wind-power projects.

Ogden resident Melvin Thompson, who owns farmland in Ogden and Riga that he has leased to developers, agrees.

“I would like [the project] to continue. I’m just waiting to see what happens … but I want the turbines up.”

Riga Township Clerk Karlene Goetz said a registered voter would have to file a notice of intent for a referendum to get on the ballot.

According to the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, a voter has seven days after this Wednesday’s ordinance publication date to file a notice of intent with Ms. Goetz.

Once the notice is filed, the petitioner will have 30 days to gather signatures of at least 15 percent of Riga residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election.

Residents would have to file the petition by Aug. 16 for the referendum to make the Nov. 8 election ballot.

Joshua Nolan, director of the nonprofit Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, said a referendum request would not come from his group. Mr. Nolan said he is satisfied with the ordinan