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Riga Township wind turbine referendum to be on November ballot

RIGA TWP., Mich. – A referendum on the wind turbine zoning ordinance in Riga Township will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Clerk Karlene Goetz spent Monday verifying the 169 signatures and determined the number exceeded the 79 needed to place the referendum on the general election ballot. Paul Wohlfarth is heading the referendum drive, turning in the petitions Aug. 10.

“There were twice as many as they needed,” Goetz said. “I verified 167 and there may have been a few more, but they didn’t need them.”

Wohlfarth started the drive because he said too much outside pressure was placed on the township planning commission and board in drawing up the zoning ordinance.

“A lot of the residents felt intimidated and didn’t attend township meetings,” Wohlfarth said. “We wanted to bring it to a vote and give Riga voters the chance to vote in private.”

On July 6, the Riga Township board approved a zoning ordinance covering wind turbines. The action followed more than a year of planning and public meetings to get input on the amendment to the township’s zoning laws.

“It is a referendum on Ordinance Number 32 that amends the Riga Township Zoning Ordinance of 1974,” Wohlfarth said. “We feel it is exclusionary.”

Key elements of the amendment require the setback from non-participating property to be four times the height of a wind 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.

Wohlfarth said he doesn’t believe the wind turbines will have an adverse affect on property values. He said township residents will benefit from the increased revenue from leases and from the annual payments from the wind energy companies.

“We want to show the positive and beneficial results of having wind turbines. It would help Riga Township and southeastern Michigan economically,” Wohlfarth said. “It’s not perfect, but it will be an economic benefit.”

After Wohlfarth filed the petitions, the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition (IICC) announced it would work against the referendum. Kevon Martis, a former member of the township planning commission and now a director of the IICC, said the group will campaign against the referendum.

“The IICC will do our very best to support the expensive and well-crafted wind energy ordinance that our board unanimously adopted only one month ago and we encourage our residents to do the same,” Martis wrote in an email.

The IICC was formed in opposition to wind turbines in southeastern Michigan and northwestern Ohio.