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BOC asks planners to review wind ordinance

BAD AXE – Developers, residents and county officials packed into the Huron County Board of Commissioners chambers Tuesday morning for another lengthy discussion about wind developments in Huron County.

As was the case during the past two regular meetings, the board was very split on many points. But there were some votes that garnered the majority of support of commissioners.

First, the board voted to pull a resolution instituting a moratorium on future wind districts until Michigan lawmakers resolve the uncertainty surrounding the personal property tax.

Then commissioners approved a resolution asking the Huron County Planning Commission to review a number of issues pertaining to wind energy for the county’s zoning ordinance. They included a prohibition of wind turbines in Lake Huron/Saginaw Bay and turbines within 3 miles of the shoreline.

District 7 Commissioner John Nugent – who represents Dwight, Hume, Lake, Lincoln, Pointe aux Barques and Port Austin townships – authored the resolution. He said the wind energy zoning ordinance is a dynamic part of the county’s zoning ordinance, and it’s something that needs to be looked at from time to time because things change.

The resolution states that while the board approves wind energy, it also wishes to protect other natural resources, “specifically our shore, offshore waters and wildlife.”

With the exception of residential property and small communities, Huron County’s shoreline is undeveloped, uncluttered, and idyllic with numerous locations offering a spectacular view of the lake, the resolution states.

“ … Our shoreline arguably consists of some of the most valuable residential property outside of our cities and villages,” the resolution states. “ … because tourism ranks in the top three as a significant source of income for Huron County businesses, it is imperative that we protect this resource from sight and noise pollution that will negatively affect residential property values and tourism.”

The resolution also notes that having a buffer separating turbines from the shoreline will provide a clear path for hawks, swans, geese, and other migratory birds, and the buffer is essential in protecting the yearly migration paths for important bird species passing over Huron County.

The resolution states current setbacks in the ordinance were not designed for the increased height of wind turbines, and they might be denying property owners the full use and value of their property.

Commissioner Clark Elftman opposed the resolution, stating many of the issues are redundant and have been reviewed in the past. He said he doesn’t support permitting turbines right on the shoreline, and he suggested looking at a 2-mile setback instead of the proposed 3-mile setback.

Commissioners John Horny and Steve Vaughan noted U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guidelines already recommend a 3-mile turbine setback from the shoreline, and that’s something the planning commission considers when approving wind developments. And, Horny said, the county’s master plan currently discourages wind developments from residential areas.

Horny felt the resolution is unnecessary, and he called it an obstacle in the path of wind energy.

Nugent said the board of commissioners has not rejected one proposed wind district, and no one’s trying to step in the way of wind energy.

He stressed the resolution only asks the planning commission to review the identified issues. It may find the county doesn’t have jurisdiction in some areas or choose to not make any recommendations to adopt the zoning ordinance.

Commissioner David Peruski said it makes sense to have county planners review these issues because they are things people have asked commissioners to look into.

Some residents, like Lake Township’s Jeanne Henry, favored the resolution. She applauded commissioners for looking out for tourism and residential property values.

Others, like Bruce Bauer of McKinley Township, opposed a 3-mile setback distance from the shoreline because there is agricultural land closer than 3 miles to the shore that could be developed and wouldn’t interfere with tourism and shoreline residents. He said wind developers conduct avian studies to ensure wind farms won’t negatively impact birds.

Development Assistant David Shiflett of Geronimo Energy said the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s guidelines cover the entire Great Lakes region. They are only guidelines because the topography varies around the region.

RES Americas Development Manager Brad Lila said developers have to conduct extensive avian studies. After the studies are complete, RES takes the findings to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which makes a recommendation as to how far away to keep turbines from the shoreline.

Because taller turbines generate more electricity than smaller ones, limiting the height of turbines will result in a larger number of turbines, Lila said. He said in its two projects, RES Americas won’t have the concentration of turbines that exists in the Michigan Wind 1 development in Ubly because RES plans to use larger turbines.

Charlie Daum, Geronimo Wind Energy development director, said limiting the height of wind turbines to 150 feet if they are located within 5 miles of the shoreline would make it impossible to develop between 30 to 40 percent of the county.

He said there may be some people who say they don’t want to look at turbines. But there are others who do – otherwise they wouldn’t have signed leases with wind developers.

Daum said limiting turbines from 5 miles from the bay is basically a moratorium, and it infringes on the property rights of people living within those areas.

Request for Review

Tuesday’s resolution asks the Huron County Planning Commission to review the following points for the Huron County Zoning Ordinance:

1. Prohibit wind turbines in Lake Huron/Saginaw Bay.

2. Prohibit wind turbines within 3 miles of the shoreline.

3. Limit the height of wind turbines to 150 feet if they are located 3 to 5 miles from the shoreline.

4. Consider increasing the property line setbacks.

5. Review the noise standard to ensure it complies with current science.

6. Review and examine the definition of ambient noise and the corresponding acceptable levels.

7. Review and examine the pure tone definition and the corresponding acceptable levels.

8. Allow county-zoned townships to limit or prohibit windmills within their jurisdiction by a majority vote of their governing body.