BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission’s review of the county’s wind ordinance was not satisfactory to all Huron County Board of Commissioners members.
Huron County Commissioner John Nugent said he is not happy with the results of the planning commission’s review, which, with exception of one out of eight items, resulted in no recommended changes or follow-up action.
The board of commissioners passed a resolution Oct. 11 asking the 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.
Nugent – who represents the seventh district, which includes 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.
During the planning commission’s Nov. 2 meeting, planners went through each item requested by the board of commissioners. In addition to turbine setbacks from the shoreline, other items included limiting the height of wind turbines to 150 feet if they are located 3 to 5 miles from the shoreline; increasing property line setbacks; reviewing the noise standard and the definitions of ambient noise and pure tone; and allowing county-zoned townships to limit or prohibit windmills within their jurisdictions by a majority vote of their governing body.
Commissioners received a response from the planning commission discussing its review of the above items last week.
Regarding prohibiting turbines within the bay, the planning commission’s opinion was that it has no jurisdiction in regard to turbines being located offshore in Lake Huron/Saginaw Bay. The commission felt this is a state and/or federal issue. Nugent asked the board to seek a legal opinion from Huron County Corporation Counsel Steve Allen.
The planning commission approved a motion to seek legal advice on zoning jurisdiction of Lake Huron/Saginaw Bay, according to the response forwarded to the board of commissioners last week.
The planning commission did not recommend changing the ordinance to include a 3-mile turbine setback from the shoreline. Developers told the planning commission the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is involved with the development and considers data from studies conducted on the specific type of habitat and wildlife residing at a particular area of the shoreline when determining the distance pertaining to wind turbine locations. Planners felt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service’s recommended guideline of siting turbines at least 3 miles from the shoreline is a starting point.
Planners chose to not recommend limiting the height of wind turbines to 150 feet if they are located 3 to 5 miles from the shoreline because the board felt current commercial scale wind development would not be possible because commercial turbines are taller than 150 feet.
The board did not recommend increasing the property line setbacks because setbacks already have been increased since the last wind development was constructed. But, the increased setbacks have affected the number of turbines that will be allowed in future developments, resulting in developers only being able to site about two to three turbines in one section of property. Planners reported this is a drastic reduction from the two wind farms currently in operation in Huron County.
Regarding the noise standard, planners said noise levels already have been reduced, and the board recommended no changes be made to the wind ordinance.
The board reported it reviewed the definitions of ambient noise and pure tone that are in the ordinance, and made no recommendation to make any changes. This decision drew fire from Lake Township resident Lou Colletta, who expressed doubt during last week’s county board of commissioners meeting as to the planning commission’s knowledge of the ordinance. During the planning commission’s Nov. 2 review, some planning commission members did not understand the ordinance’s definition of pure tone, which is a steady, pure tone emitted from a turbine.
Because the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act includes provisions regarding the authority of zoning matters in county zoned townships, the planning commission made no recommendation to allow county-zoned townships to limit or prohibit windmills within their jurisdiction.
“It is the suggestion of the planning commission that if a township is not satisfied with the current zoning in place, they have the ability to rescind the county zoning ordinance and develop and enforce their own ordinance pursuant to (the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act),” states the planning commission’s response to the board of commissioners.
The planning commission suggested any board of commissioners member who has documentation on the above eight issues should forward it to the planning commission for review and possible amendments.
During last week’s board of commissioners meeting, Nugent said he intends to consult with Allen, and he wants to introduce a resolution addressing a 3-mile turbine setback from the shoreline and other setbacks.
He said he still thinks the ordinance needs to be reviewed and he wants to have a public hearing about it.