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Centerville windmill trial under way

A neighborhood dispute over a wind turbine is getting some attention from an “outsider” this week in 13th Circuit Court.

The Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC), is monitoring the trial of Kobetz vs. Spencer which is playing out in court.

“The issue is whether this sets a precedent for use of wind energy,” said Robert Marshall, who is attending the trial on behalf of NMEAC. “We encourage going from hydro-carbon to non-hydro-cardon energy.

“Anything that stands in the way is detrimental.”

Richard and Kay Kobetz filed suit in January against their neighbors Penny and Shandy Spencer, claiming their 112-foot windmill installed on the Spencer’s lavendar farm constitutes a “nuisance” and that they were “not consulted” prior to construction. Their properties, located on the west side of Co. Rd. 651 in Centerville Township, are adjoining.

The Kobetzes claim the wind tower’s motion and noise from the turbine has resulted in a loss of property value and loss of enjoyment of their property.

The Spencers claim that placement of the electricity-generating tower is allowed by township zoning and protected under the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

On Tuesday, the first day of a scheduled three-day trial, plaintiff’s attorney Aaron Phelps called his clients to the stand.

The Kobetzes built their three-story home overlooking Good Harbor Bay and the Manitou islands after purchasing the property in 2002. However, since the turbine went up in October 2010, both the Kobetzes said they have experienced dizziness and nausea resulting from the motion and flicker from the blades on the turbine.

Although the tower is approximately 800 feet from their home, the Kobetzes testified that the turbine can been seen from nearly every room in their home and that its reflection is visible in their television, windows, artwork and fireplace mantel.

“You can’t get away from it. It lives in the house with us,” Kay Kobetz said.

The plaintiffs provided a series of photo exhibits documenting their claims.

Other witnesses taking the stand on behalf of the Kobetzes were: Marc Green, a visual expert from Toronto; Richard James, from E-Coustic Systems, an acoustic consultant from Okemos; and Michael McCann, an Illinois real estate appraiser.

McCann, an expert in wind turbine property values, testified that before the turbine was put up, the property ($385,000) and home ($850,000) were valued at $1.27 million.

Afterward, he estimates the value of the property at $950,000 or a 25 percent loss.

James testified that noise from the turbine is the result of its “level of sophistication.”

“You’re at the mercy of the wind … Noise implies wasted energy. It implies it’s not working well,” James said.

The sound expert said the rotation of the blades and modulating noise can cause “adverse health results” in nearby residences.

Green, a co-principle at Visual Expert Human Factors Science in Toronto, testified about how the motion of the windmill and flicker of the blades can cause a “distraction syndrome” in those living nearby.

Attorneys Kristyn Houle and Karen Ferguson were scheduled to begin their defense case yesterday.

The defense witness list includes Penny and Shandy Spencer; Centerville Township zoning administrator Tim Cypher; neighbor Bob Eitzen; former occupant of the Spencer property Elaine (Kilwy) Fall; optics expert James Forbes; real estate appraiser Mike Tarnow of Traverse City; and Tom Gallery, an acoustics expert who installed the wind turbine for the Spencers.

Cypher investigated the Kobetzes original complaint to Centerville Township and found no violation of the zoning ordinance nor “nuisance” provisions of the document.

Fall is expected to talk about a windmill that was used on the Kilway farm during her childhood.

Since the lawsuit was filed, a number of changes were made to turbines to help reduce glare and noise.

“We painted the blades battleship gray, because it’s supposed to disappear on the horizon,” Gallery said.

In addition, as recently at Nov. 3, Gallery said he made four adjustments to control resonance of the tower. Both were moves to help mitigate the situation.

Gallery said he believes the noise is noticeably less than what it was prior to the adjustment.

However, when asked on the stand, the Kobetzes said they noticed no difference in either the flicker or noise since the improvements.

At the conclusion of the bench trial, Judge Thomas G. Power is expected to issue a decision.