PALMYRA TWP., Mich. – The Palmyra Township board reversed its course on wind turbines Wednesday night, handing turbine supporters a victory and leading opponents to talk of a possible ballot referendum to overturn the decision.
Wednesday’s action was a change from earlier this month, when the board approved amendments that would have made the ordinance stricter than the one that had been drafted by its planning commission and endorsed by the Lenawee County Planning Commission. The amendments would have set a lower noise limit and increased the minimum allowable distance between a turbine and the property of any non-participating property owner.
Larry Gould, president of Great Lakes Wind LLC, said that if the amendments had stayed, the resulting ordinance would have been strict enough to effectively prohibit turbines in Palmyra Township.
But on Wednesday, the board went back to the original language on two key points.
— The original language required a setback from non-participating properties of no less than twice the height of the turbine. An amendment approved earlier this month would have changed the setback to three times the height of the turbine. The board voted 4-1 to go back to the original language. Supervisor Jim Isley, clerk Samantha Meyer, treasurer Dale Terry and trustee Bradley Ball voted to go back to the shorter distance, while trustee Steve Papenhagen voted to keep the longer distance.
— The original language set a maximum noise level of 45 decibels, measured from any inhabitable building on a non-participating property. A previously approved amendment would have changed that to 40 decibels, but the board voted 3-2 to go back to the higher limit. Isley, Meyer and Terry voted in the majority, while Papenhagen and Ball voted to keep the stricter requirement.
Before voting, the board heard public comments on the proposed ordinance. Besides Gould, who offered to answer any questions but didn’t make a statement, six commenters were generally favorable to wind turbines and four advocated stricter regulations.
Isley also consulted a decibel meter during the discussion. He said it registered an ambient decibel level in the 40s in the room with nobody talking, going up to the 50s whenever a truck would go by outside.
Terry said he felt that the stricter regulations would essentially prohibit wind turbine development.
“I’m not sure that is fair or proper,” he said.
Papenhagen disagreed, saying that looser regulations would infringe on the rights of neighboring property owners.
“I don’t know how we can force – when we live in a land that we consider free – how we can force this on landowners that don’t want to be a part of it,” he said.
Before the vote, Isley said the ordinance is one of the most important documents he’s worked on during his time on the board.
“I have to wonder sometimes if one side doesn’t exaggerate their claims, and the other side perhaps doesn’t tell all that they know,” he said.
The vote to adopt the final ordinance, with the shorter minimum setbacks and higher allowable noise ceiling, was 4-1 with Papenhagen casting the dissenting vote.
After the meeting, wind turbine opponents raised the possibility of a ballot proposal to enact stricter rules.
“Other communities have gone that route,” said township resident Josh Van Camp. “I think maybe Palmyra voters should be given the chance to do that as well.”
In a separate development further to the south, the Federal Aviation Administration ruled last week against 63 turbine sites in Ogden and Riga townships proposed by juwi, another wind developer hoping to build in the area. The FAA’s notices were sent to the media by Josh Nolan, director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, which has been opposing wind developers’ plans. Gould said the FAA decision about juwi’s sites came to Great Lakes Wind’s attention Wednesday morning and engineers will have to look at it.
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