The Mason County Road Commission is very close to reaching an agreement with Consumers Energy over road use to build a wind farm in Riverton and Summit Townships, the Mason County Board of Commissioners learned Tuesday.
MCRC Managing Director Gary Dittmer and Chairman Nick Matiash gave an update on the road commission’s recent work to the board of commissioners.
During that update, Dittmer told commissioners the “ball’s in their court,” referring to Consumers Energy, and that drafts of the agreement between the two parties have been revised and passed between them. Most recently a revised copy from MCRC was sent to Consumers Energy for their review.
Dittmer and Matiash said MCRC met with other counties who have wind farms for their advice on what to include in the agreement.
Consumers Energy has received a special land use permit to construct a wind farm in southern Mason County that will consist of 56 476-foot wind turbines.
Heavy machinery will need to be brought in to build the wind farm and the road commission hopes to cover all their bases to make sure area roads come out at an equal state or better when the project is finished.
District 7 Commissioner Mary Nichols asked what kinds of impacts residents could see and was told that the turning radii at several intersections will need to be increased to allow for the extra long turbine components to be brought in. Increasing radii could mean trees would be cut down. Of the 14 radii
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that are going to have to be increased, the MCRC representatives said, all but one is on property where the owners have signed lease agreements with Consumers Energy. The one piece of property where the owner hasn’t signed an agreement is road commission property.
Thursday the Mason County Planning Commission made a decision to approve Consumers Energy’s request for a special land use permit for the wind park. Consumers Energy had been hoping for approval by July 1 in order to make sure the project finishes within a time frame that they could take advantage of federal tax credits available.
In a letter dated July 1 from Consumers Energy Senior Vice President of Generation and Energy Supply Jackson L. Hanson to Mason County Board of Commissioners Chair Lew Squires and acting planning commission chair Doug Robidoux, Hanson expressed disappointment in the county for not reaching a decision on the application by July 1.
“Given the current situation, we are now forced to evaluate all of our options including withdrawing out of this project; however at considerable expense to us and our customers, we will delay our final decision until July 7,” Hanson wrote. “ The development of Lake Winds is too important for all of us not to allow for this short delay. We trust you will carefully consider the decision before you and take the steps necessary to move the process forward. We strongly believe the earlier the decision is made, the faster the community can come together and move forward.”
Nichols said she was very “dismayed and disheartened” with the letter.
Several county commissioners commended the planning commission for their work in making the decision.
During public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, Dan Quinn brought up the issue of allowing off-road vehicles on county roads.
Later in the meeting, District 5 Commissioner Rich Morong asked what needs to be done to revisit the possibility of a county-wide ordinance to allow ORVs to drive on the far right-hand side of the road.
Morong said he has been approached by several of his constituents who are in favor of a county-wide ordinance.
Board Chair Lew Squires said the board had a lot on its plate recently with wind turbine issues and would look into the process of how ORVs could be revisited by the board.
The county board voted 8-2 in 2009 not to take on the issue and to leave it up to individual townships to set their own rules. Since that time there are four new commissioners on the board and at least four townships have passed local ordinances to allow ORV use on the road edge.
During the meeting the board heard from County Administrator Fabian Knizacky on the 2010 audit report and later approved the report.
“The audit went very well,” Knizacky said.
This was the first year, in Knizacky’s experience, where no new recommendations were issued for the county.
Financial highlights listed in the report include:
• The County’s total net assets increased by $3,065,623.23 compared to 2009.
• At the close of the current fiscal year, the County’s governmental funds (including the general fund, special revenue funds, debt service and capital projects funds) reported combined ending fund balances of $22,964,051.13, an increase of $1,404,354.64 in comparison with the prior year. Of the fund balance amount $19,725,851.96 is available for spending at the government’s discretion.
• The general fund had an excess of revenues over expenditures and other financing uses of $255,416.62 for 2010. At the end of the year, unreserved fund balance for the general fund was $3,215,961.34 or approximately 31 percent of the total general fund expenditures and net operating transfers out. The fund balance for the general fund was $3,311,069.25.
• The county’s total bonded debt decreased by $435,000 during the fiscal year.