BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission has voted for its second time to recommend approving DTE Energy’s request to create a wind energy overlay district in a portion of Section 13 in McKinley Township.
There already are wind turbines being constructed in McKinley Township. But no overlay district exists in Section 13, and turbines cannot be built in that section until an overlay district is created, per the county’s wind energy zoning ordinance. DTE officials said the utility wanted to include that section because it wants to construct a turbine on land it has been leasing from Phil Leipprandt.
Leipprandt, who has had an easement agreement with DTE for the past three years, told planners during a public hearing Wednesday that it has been his intent all along to have his property included in a wind project. He stressed the project meets all the zoning ordinance’s requirements for a wind overlay district.
The ordinance requires that a developer prove three things in order to get a wind district approved. First, there must be adequate wind resources available. Second, there must be a sufficient number of parcels under lease with the development. Third, it has to be an agricultural district.
In this instance, DTE Energy has provided maps and other evidence showing the portion of Section 13 in question has more than adequate wind resources; 100 percent of the portion of that section is under lease; and the area is located within the agricultural district, said Matt Wagner, DTE Energy wind site development manager, during Wednesday’s planning commission meeting.
Planners questioned the project’s proximity to the shoreline, referencing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s guidelines that state wind turbines shouldn’t be sited within three miles of the shoreline. Wagner said while a small portion of the district area may be within that three-mile area, the area DTE is interested in constructing the turbine is outside of that proximity.
Also, it was noted U.S. Fish and Wildlife works with developers and does not completely prohibit turbines from three miles from the shoreline. Wagner said turbines can be sited within that three-mile boundary if the developer has scientific evidence proving the development will not harm area wildlife.
Jeff Smith, Huron County Building and Zoning director, referenced a North American Wind Power article, “How wind developers can successfully navigate FWS siting guidelines,” that was written by David Stout, the former chief of habitat conservation for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Stout writes that although guidelines can promote a consistent approach to project-impact evaluation, each site must be considered based on local circumstances.
During Wednesday’s public hearing, McKinley Township Clerk Michael Stevenson voiced support for the wind district, noting McKinley Township voters previously voted in favor of wind development. In other sections of McKinley Township, projects are currently under way by DTE to construct nine turbines and by Exelon Wind LLC to build five.
About a half a dozen members from the Laborers Local 1098 in Saginaw came to Wednesday’s hearing. A business agent for the union told planners the group has worked on wind developments all over the state.
“(We) work hard, and we’re here in support of the wind farms,” he said.
McKinley resident Virgil Bouck was the only other person to speak during the hearing. He indicated he did not want to be included in the district. His property was included in the first application DTE submitted for a wind district in Section 13. However, when reviewing the original application, planners removed his property from the proposed boundaries because he did not want to be included in the district. That application did not get approved by the Huron County Board of Commissioners because there was a tie vote on the matter during the board’s June 12 meeting.
Last month, DTE submitted another application, citing its wishes to include Leipprandt, who utility officials say has been a loyal landowner. Planners noted Bouck’s property is not included in the boundaries requested in this current application.
Leipprandt was appreciative to the board following the planning commission’s unanimous vote to recommend the district be approved.
“I’m glad they did this,” he said.
“I thought it was great,” said Wagner, noting the commission’s vote didn’t come as a surprise because there was nothing to object to in the application for the district.
As for how the board of commissioners will vote on the planning commission’s recommendation, Wagner said, “We’re optimistic.”
The next regular meeting of the county board of commissioners is set to follow a 9 a.m. meeting of the whole Aug. 14 in Room 305 in the County Building.
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