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Local ordinances stall wind farm projects in Michigan

A wind power company with plans to place turbines in Clinton County is crying foul over local ordinances that could stall the project.

For the past five years, Chicago-based Forest Hill Energy has been moving forward with plans for a 40-turbine, $120-million wind development in the area called Fowler Farms Wind Farm. Twenty-five of the turbines are slated for Bengal Township, nine for Dallas Township and six for Essex Township.

In January, the company cleared one regulatory hurdle when it received a land-use permit from Clinton County. But in the months prior, each of the three townships passed ordinances that could hinder Forest Hill’s efforts to begin construction before the end of the year.

Those laws, which local officials refer to as licensing ordinances, are nothing of the sort, Forest Hill officials say. They are, the company argues, zoning ordinances, and officials filed a complaint in Clinton County Circuit Court last week challenging them.

“State law clearly explains the process for townships instituting their own zoning regulations,” said Jon Bylsma, an attorney with Forest Hill, in a statement last week. “These townships have not followed that process. Even if proper process were followed, the townships cannot legally pass ordinances inconsistent with the county zoning ordinance.

“We filed this complaint asking the court to recognize the invalidity of the ordinances and immediately stop the townships from enforcing the ordinances.”

Essex Township wind ordinance, approved in October, said no turbine system could be installed without first obtaining a license. That process involves companies submitting detailed site plans, complying with local building codes and meeting the township’s restrictions on noise levels.

Attorney William Fahey is representing Essex Township in the matter. On Friday, he said the ordinance in no way halts the Fowler Farms project.

“This simply requires that the project receives a license from the township and the licensing standards that are established are similar to those in other municipalities across the state,” he said.