Wind power’s saga in southeastern Michigan’s Lenawee County is about to take a new turn on Nov. 8 when voters in Riga Township will decide whether to repeal the zoning ordinance that township officials adopted July 6 to regulate the giant machines.
Neighboring Palmyra Township also could be about to adopt a similar ordinance. A special meeting has been called for tonight at the Palmyra Township Community Building for the township board to complete its review of what’s been proposed there: an ordinance that is considered a little more flexible than Riga Township’s.
The debate is about fundamental issues of land use, economic development, and personal comfort.
The ordinances’ fates depend on how much light and noise pollution area residents expect the turbines to generate.
Turbines 493 feet high are contemplated. They would be 80 feet higher than Toledo’s tallest building and 25 percent taller than four turbines American Municipal Power built in 2003 and 2004 in the Wood County landfill southwest of Bowling Green.
Last Wednesday, wind-power advocates apparently succeeded in an effort to force the Nov. 8 vote.
It is a rare instance in which a group of residents has taken it upon itself to have voters at large – not the people they have elected to represent them – decide the outcome of a local zoning controversy.
Seventy-nine signatures were required to get the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot. Wind advocates got 169.
Voters are to be asked to repeal the ordinance.
Riga Township Clerk Karlene Goetz said she expects to begin validating the signatures today. Language for the Nov. 8 ballot must be finalized by the township board by Aug. 30, she said.
The issue remains heated, with both sides leveling accusations and drama taking on new forms.
“We believe Riga politics have been unfairly influenced by those from outside the township,” Paul Wohlfarth, a Riga resident and wind proponent, said. “This effort will allow Riga residents to vote anonymously without harassment on Nov. 8. We will advocate the positives of wind turbine development and the economic benefits for Riga and the surrounding area.”
Joyce Thompson, a Riga Township resident who initiated the referendum, declined to comment.
Joshua J. Nolan, director of the anti-wind group called Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition Inc., said he is not surprised his opponents were able to muster enough votes to get the ordinance on the ballot.
But he has doubts there’s enough support to rescind the measure.
Without restrictions, turbines could have an impact on many residents who are not compensated through land leases, he said.
The ordinance, though, does not preclude responsible siting and construction of wind turbines, ones that do not “impose low frequency noise and shadow flicker upon residents free of charge,” Mr. Nolan said.
“The truth is that the ordinance requires any wind developer who wishes to build within 2,000 feet or so of a small landowner to get their consent and to compensate them for loss of quality of life,” according to Kevon Martis, former vice chairman of Riga Township’s planning commission, who became a wind-power critic. “What could be more fair or reasonable when the developer’s goal is to build hundreds of 500-foot turbines in a region that previously restricted structures to 40 feet?”
Citizens opposed to wind power “will do our very best” to keep the ordinance alive, he said.
The coalition has put its message online, taken out newspaper ads, and handed out fliers.
The proposed ordinance in Palmyra drew 120 people to a public hearing Thursday night.
The special meeting tonight is a continuation of that.
Palmyra Supervisor James Isley said the proposal will return for a final vote if the township board chooses to forward it to the Lenawee County Planning Commission for review.
“We’ve just had a ton of comment on this issue,” he said. “It’s very, very hot.”
Two other area townships where wind turbines are being contemplated – Ogden and Fairfield – also have passed temporary moratoriums on installation of the machines until more is known about them.
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