BAD AXE – It was a full house at Wednesday night’s Huron County Planning Commission meeting. So full, in fact, that they moved it to a different house – the district courthouse.
A crowd of more than 50 saw planners approve a site plan review for NextEra’s Pheasant Run Wind Project, 6-1, with Carl Duda being the dissenting vote.
The wind farm is scheduled to have 88 turbines in portions of Brookfield, Fairhaven, Grant, Oliver, Sebewaing and Winsor townships.
Wednesday’s site plan review was originally scheduled to take place during the commission’s May 1 meeting. But Huron County Circuit Court Judge M. Richard Knoblock signed a restraining order that afternoon, which prohibited the county from zoning Brookfield Township. The restraining order was requested by Brookfield resident Michael Lorencz, in conjunction with his lawsuit against the county and Brookfield over zoning control in the township.
Knoblock dismissed the restraining order on May 28 after finding no irreparable harm in discontinuing the order, re-opening the door for planners to vote on the site plan review Wednesday night.
But Wednesday night was no rubber stamp.
After deliberating for more than 50 minutes, the Planning Commission approved the site plan with three conditions: that NextEra revamp its complaint process to be more in-line with the county’s, that the company get all necessary permitting from the Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Department of Transportation and that the Board of Commissioner’s Finance Committee and Corporate Counsel Stephen J. Allen get an opportunity to review the insurance bond set aside for decommissioning.
Planning Commissioners asked NextEra officials questions pertaining to whether the wind farm was in compliance with the county zoning ordinance on issues such as turbine height, setbacks and noise levels.
One other area that took up a large portion of discussion time was centered around a few lease agreement holders who were concerned about the scheduled placement of turbines on their property.
Their lawyer, Stephon Bagne of Clark Hill in Detroit, spoke near the beginning of the meeting.
“My clients wholeheartedly and absolutely support the Pheasant Wind Project,” Bagne said. “… My clients are currently in discussions with Next Era. … We look forward to completing those discussions with NextEra. When those discussions are complete, we will at that time be able to stand before this body and wholeheartedly support this specific site plan. We hope to bring these discussions to a speedy conclusion.”
NextEra Project Director Kevin Gildea said the discussions were ongoing, and reminded planners that they represented a small part of the overall project.
He said the contracts were inherited when NextEra purchased the project from RES America’s in March, and was in-line with the county zoning ordinance.
“The agreement with the landowner is no different today than what they signed,” Gildea said. “It’s the same agreement. And we as the developer believe we’re in compliance with the agreement, working with the landowner to site. … We’re going to site the turbines so that they’re in compliance with the ordinance that you guys are most concerned with, and that’s the Huron County Planning and Zoning. …”
Site Layout Designer Tim Stovall added that the company had negotiated the movement of 12 turbines with lease agreement holders already.
Duda told the Tribune after the meeting that the issue played into his decision to vote no.
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