BAD AXE – The Huron County Board of Commissioners rejected a motion Tuesday to release five acres from the farm preservation act to serve as a Winsor Township substation for a wind energy park.
But the 3-3 vote will probably be overturned by appeal to the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
Commissioners debated their course of action on the future of a planned substation on Caseville Road in Section 34 of Winsor Township. The ITC substation would accommodate the energy produced by the Pheasant Run Wind Park, owned by NextEra Energy.
The county Planning Commission approved the release of the land last week.
Part of the board wanted to vote with the recommendation of county attorney Steve Allen and reject the removal of land from Public Act 116 because the act requires the land become public if it is to be released.
“I can’t, as a lawyer, look at this language and tell you to make a determination based on this being (owned by) a public body,” Allen said of the land in question.
But other commissioners said the land, although not public, would serve a public utility. And, the Department of Agriculture was ruling in favor of such recent decisions, even though they may seem to go against the wording of the farmland preservation act.
John Bodis was one of the commissioners to point out the Department of Agriculture says in its latest guidelines that it is OK to release the land from Public Act 116. He stood with commissioners Clark Elftman and Steve Vaughan. They also had the support of Jeff Smith, the director of the county Building and Zoning Office.
“It serves a public interest,” Smith told the board.
Commissioners John Nugent, David Peruski and Ron Wruble voted against releasing the land.
Commissioner Jeremy Tietz missed the meeting with an excused absence, thus the tie vote.
After the meeting, Peruski admitted the Department of Agriculture will probably go ahead and rule in favor of releasing the land from Public Act 116.
“It didn’t meet the legal criteria,” he said. “But my guess is they will appeal it. And my guess is they will approve it.”
Smith later told the Tribune the request will almost certainly be approved through an appeal to the MDA, and the substation will be built as approved by county planners.
Several officials said they were glad the county voted on the matter, as opposed to taking no action like it did last month on another request of land to be released.
“My advice is to take action on it as some point in time,” Allen said.
Before voting on the release of land, commissioners reached a similar 3-3 vote on a motion to delay the matter until it could be studied more in committee.
Commissioners were concerned with Allen’s warnings that some municipalities have faced costly judgments for not complying with the law on matters of zoning or land use. They expressed concern that both sides could possibly challenge the eventual outcome in court.
“No matter what we said, we were wrong,” Nugent said.
“Sometimes one part of the law can be contradicting to another part of the law,” Peruski told the Tribune.
Smith agreed that the board was better off by voting on the request this time around – whether it was to approve, deny or waive right to a decision.
“I’m happy that the board at least took action today,” he said.
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