BAD AXE – A resolution to OK a wind energy overlay district for DTE Energy in Section 13 of McKinley Township could still gain approval of the Huron County Board of Commissioners.
That’s only if at least one of the three commissioners who voted against the district brings the resolution back to the table for a vote at the board’s next regular meeting. The issue failed to pass on a 3-3 vote last week.
During last week’s meeting, commissioners David Peruski, Ron Wruble and John Nugent voted against the district, while commissioners Steve Vaughan, John Horny and Clark Elftman voted in favor of it. Because it was a split vote, the resolution was defeated.
On Tuesday, commissioners held a meeting of the whole where the board met with Huron County Corporation Counsel Stephen J. Allen to see whether the matter could be revisited. Some commissioners felt it’s important to have all seven commissioners present when voting on such an important issue.
However, as Ruble noted, if one of the three dissenters choose to bring the resolution up for another vote, it’s likely the resolution will pass, as it’s believed Commissioner John Bodis would vote in favor of the district.
While Wruble did not say he favors bringing the resolution back to the table, he said he was struggling with the fact that if it’s not brought back, the minority of the board will be circumventing the majority’s will.
Allen said the resolution can be brought back only if a member of the prevailing vote (which is one of the commissioners who voted no) makes a motion to do so at next week’s regular meeting. If no motion is made, the board’s position will be that the district is unapproved, he explained.
Elftman, who chairs the board of commissioners, said the board needs to abide by its rules, and commissioners need to stand with whatever outcome results from next week’s meeting.
However, he was one of the commissioners who said his constituents want the issue revisited.
Nugent said the constituents he’s talked to are shoreline residents, and they have been overwhelmingly happy with the way last week’s vote went.
Elftman replied that his constituents are in agricultural areas, and they are not happy with last week’s vote.
Wruble said that is the “crux of the whole thing” – that the county’s wind energy ordinance is working out for agricultural landowners, but not for others in the county. He said the county needs to tweak its ordinance to get more people comfortable with “what we’re doing in this county.”
A number of residents from Lake Township and Bay County were opposed to the district during a public hearing the Huron County Planning Commission held earlier this month. They had concerns about aesthetics; turbine setbacks from the shoreline, property lines and environmentally sensitive areas; property values; wildlife; and the uncertainty of future tax revenue from wind developments.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Bruce Bauer of McKinley Township said there already are two wind districts in McKinley Township, and voters previously voted in favor for local wind development. Between DTE and Exelon Wind, 14 turbines have been approved in McKinley Township. The district DTE requested in Section 13 would host a maximum of two turbines, DTE officials previously stated.
Bauer was concerned wind energy opponents from areas outside of the county’s zoning jurisdiction swayed the board’s decision to vote against the district last week.
Phil Leipprandt, who has easements with DTE Energy to develop his property in Section 13 in McKinley Township, said he feels he’s being picked on. He said he’s had the easements for the past three to four years, and since then, he has been under the impression he’d have wind turbines on that property.
“I don’t know what’s changed,” he said, noting other districts that are closer to the shoreline have been approved but his was not.
Nugent said the board is not picking on anyone – it’s just that there is a large segment in the county that feels disenfranchised because of the county’s wind ordinance.
“It’s a bigger issue than one or two turbines,” he said.
Vaughan said DTE Energy has fulfilled all the requirements in the ordinance to get a wind overlay district, which serves as a planning area for future development. Wind developers have to complete the site plan review process prior to getting a building permit to construct a wind farm.
Jeff Smith, Huron County Building and Zoning director, told the Tribune that if there are issues with things like noise limits and setback distances, they need to be addressed during the site plan review process – not during consideration of approving a wind energy overlay district. He also noted the county already has amended its ordinance, and there hasn’t been any new construction since it was last amended.
Vaughan said while things like shoreline setbacks, noise levels and tax revenue are all legitimate issues, they don’t have anything to do with the resolution to approve this wind district. He said the Apple Blossom Wind Overlay district the county approved for Geronimo Wind Energy extends right up to the shoreline on the west side of the county. Vaughan asked how the board can approve a district that’s on the shoreline and then not approve the district in Section 13 in McKinley Township, which is at least three miles from the shoreline.
Allen told the board that commissioners do not have to arbitrarily approve wind districts. He said commissioners can vote no if their decision hinges on reasons tied to the public health, safety and welfare.
Vaughan said commissioners who are concerned about the county’s wind ordinance should get actively involved by meeting with Smith and the planning commission to present ideas and come up with a plan for change.
“If we need to make changes, let’s do it,” Vaughan said.
Nugent said it’s apparent the county needs to make changes.
Elftman said making changes is the next step. But what needs to be done first – i.e. formalizing the board’s position on the wind district in Section 13 in McKinley Township – will be done at the next regular meeting, which will follow a 9 a.m. meeting of the whole Tuesday in Room 305 in the County Building.