GARDEN – The Garden Peninsula Wind Farm is becoming a reality, but that doesn’t mean every resident is on board with the project. Heritage Sustainable Energy recently hosted an open house in Garden – giving community members a chance to learn more about their project and its progress.
Heritage, a sustainable energy firm based in Traverse City, announced last year that they were in the pre-development stage of the wind farm. At that point, the company had obtained approximately 10,000 acres worth of land leases from residents on the Garden Peninsula.
Tuesday’s open house boasted a large turn-out, even bringing in Sen. Tom Casperson, who lives in Delta County.
In his opening comments, Marty Lagina, chief executive officer and founder of Heritage, explained that there will be about 15 wind turbines throughout the peninsula, producing energy that will then be sold to both Consumers Energy and Detroit Edison.
“We intend to put up one wind turbine this fall and then leave the crane here and finish up this first project in the spring with about 13 to 14 more,” he said.
The purpose of the open house, explained Lagina, was to give residents the opportunity to gain more information from Heritage.
Hand-outs provided by Heritage stated that the project is estimated to bring short-term (construction) revenue of $10 million, with long-term revenue, from sources like royalty payments and maintenance jobs, after the project’s completion.
“Our philosophy is to do this sort of thing – work with people, try and keep people informed, try and get people answers, try and be open,” he said. “The point of the meeting is to make sure that people understand what’s going to happen.”
Lagina, who was born and raised in Iron Mountain and graduated from Michigan Technological University, explained that additional developments on the peninsula may be in the future, but are not definite.
“There are nuances in the project that could be changed,” he said.
During a short-lived attempt at a question/answer session with attendees, Lagina, along with Rick Wilson, vice president of operations, were drawn into a debate about the potential impact the turbines will have on migratory birds, as well as bats. Lagina assured those concerned, including a wildlife biologist, that ample paid studies were conducted by Michigan State University and the Michigan Natural Features Inventory prior to the farm’s development.
After resuming a open house forum, other attendees expressed both appreciation and concern about Heritage’s project. Garden resident Adam Gembel, whose parents signed a lease with Heritage, showed his support for the farm.
“Beside bringing some work into the community, I think the financial help to the county and schools is definitely a positive,” he said. “It’s great for us, but I can understand some of the negative views as well,” he said.
Vicki Schwab was also there to support the project, both as a resident of neighboring Nahma and as the Delta County Economic Development Alliance Executive Director.
“I am…here to help educate and inform people about all of the impacts a project like this has on a community,” she said. “The concerns that you’re hearing in the most vocal group, unfortunately, are people that don’t even live in our community, so they really don’t know what it’s like to live here and to try to make a living.”
People need to understand the total impact from a project, economically, to help make the best informed decision about it,” she added.
Cliff and Rosemary Stollings of Garden wouldn’t deem their view as negative, but the pair were on hand during the open house to promote the “other side” of the issue.
“We’re trying to…get information to the people that Heritage isn’t covering,” Cliff explained. “We’re all for wind turbines, but…It’s going to affect too many property values; it’s affecting other people’s use of their properties.”
While they did not sign a lease, their neighbors did, said Cliff, and eight turbines will be within a mile of their house, with two being located approximately 1,400 feet away. The problems with the wind farm are the noise, property value decreases, and potential impact on human and animal health, he explained.
Cliff recently sent a letter, along with approximately 80 signatures from Garden residents, to the Delta County Board requesting a moratorium be imposed on Heritage until an assessment of the potential problems was completed.
“I asked for this moratorium, and they (the county) went ahead and issued 14 permits before there was any zoning in place,” he said. “Right now, they can pretty much put turbines where ever they want.”
Tom Elegeert, chairman of the board, sent a response letter to Stollings, stating that a wind turbine zoning ordinance is in the works, and that the public will have a chance to provide comment prior to its adoption.
“I’ve already got a lot of people coming up, and they’re already angry,” said Stollings. “Their reading this information and using it… a lot of the people I talk to…felt hopeless – that they couldn’t do anything. Now, they seem to be getting a little more animated.”
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