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Planners give the OK to Deerfield wind district

BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission has approved a new wind district for the Deerfield Wind Farm, which could host up to 100 wind turbines in the northeast portion of Huron County.

The project is proposed to be developed on about 18 square miles in Dwight Township, about 1 square mile in Lincoln Township, 6 square miles in Bloomfield Township and about 20 square miles in Huron Township. The planning commission held a public hearing last week at the Huron County Expo Center for the portions of the project that are in Dwight, Lincoln and Bloomfield townships. Huron Township is one of 14 townships in Huron County that currently are not under county zoning.

The Deerfield Wind Farm is one of two wind developments RES Americas is working on in Huron County. The other project is the Pheasant Run Wind Farm in the southwestern portion of the county. The county approved the Pheasant Run Wind Farm wind district in April.

During Wednesday’s public hearing, RES Americas Development Manager Brad Lila told the planning commission that RES was contacted about three years ago by a local landowner who was interested in hosting a wind project. The company looked at the area and found it was one of the best places, in light of wind studies in Michigan, to host a wind development.

Local landowners united and negotiated a contract with RES where all participants get the same rate in terms of financial benefits from the project.

The project consists of about 24,000 acres and has 220 participating landowners.

Lila said RES still has to do a lot of labor intensive and expensive studies to conduct in order to proceed with the project. The company wants a wind district outlining the planning area before that process is undertaken, Lila said.

If the project is built, it will create about six full-time positions and 300 jobs during the construction period, he said.

Some residents within the proposed project area were concerned about a strip of land on the south section of Section 8 in Dwight Township. Because the majority of the project area is to the east of Hellems Road, and not all landowners within that area to the west of Hellems Road are not participating, the residents did not want the project’s boundary areas to include that half of Section 8.

Prior to the board’s vote, Planning Commissioner Mary Babcock created a motion to amend the district’s boundaries to not include the half-mile in Section 8.

Lila was skeptical whether a turbine could be sited within that location, considering its close proximity to a river. Therefore, RES wouldn’t object to removing that area from the proposed wind district, he said.

Babcock noted removing the area in Section 8 also would result in keeping the district’s boundary lines more straight.

Planning Commission Chairman Fred Hasen objected to the motion to amend the wind district, stating it protects one man’s wishes over another’s rights.

The amendment was approved and the amended motion to create the district, sans that portion in Section 8, was approved.

Prior to the vote, planning commissioners who have leases with wind developments disclosed that information, and those that did not have leases in the proposed area voted on the motion to create the district. Planner Clark Brock abstained from voting because he has a small parcel within this project area under lease.

The Huron County Board of Commissioners still has to give the final approval on the new wind district. The matter is on the agenda of the board’s next regular meeting, which will follow a 9 a.m. meeting of the whole this morning.

In other business during Wednesday’s planning commission meeting, Russ Lundberg, former Huron County Building and Zoning director who now serves as an adviser to that office, gave an update regarding Sebewaing Township’s request to extend county zoning into Sebewaing Township. The township’s planning commission previously voted to repeal the township’s zoning ordinance.

Lundberg said the township wants to go under county zoning because there have been so many changes regarding zoning that it’s hard for a lay person to deal with. Also, the township only had part-time support staff, he said.

In order for the county to do its part, the planning commission has to hold a public regarding extending zoning into Sebewaing Township, Lundberg said. He said the planning commission has to determine whether a map amendment or text amendment is needed to the county’s zoning ordinance prior to that public hearing.

Planning Commissioner Dr. Robert Oakes said the county also should look at whether the building and zoning office will need additional help because of the additional work load that will result in having another township’s zoning under the county’s jurisdiction.

The issue will be revisited during the planning commission’s next regular meeting, which is set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 in Room 305 in the Huron County Building in Bad Axe.