LANSING – Developers of a proposed wind farm in Mid-Michigan plan to move forward after a Clinton County judge ruled in their favor.
The legal battle centered on ordinances passed by Bengal, Dallas and Essex townships that Forest Hill Energy argued would have effectively blocked it from building a $120 million, 39-turbine wind farm west of St. Johns.
Clinton County Judge Randy Tahvonen on Monday issued a final written ruling that the townships did not have the legal authority to enact and enforce those ordinances.
“We’re very pleased that the judge ruled very clearly and emphatically that the townships’ efforts to pass what are really zoning ordinances that are contrary to the county’s zoning plan were invalidated,” said Grand Rapids attorney Jon Bylsma, who represented the Chicago-based wind developer.
The townships sought to limit the turbine’s height, property setbacks, noise levels and the shadow flicker produced by the blades, said Okemos attorney William Fahey, who’s representing Dallas and Essex townships.
“Obviously people are very concerned about how close these turbines might be to their homes and to their property, how much noise they’re going to make,” he said. “The height is a big issue because the higher they are, the more visually intrusive they are to someone’s property.”
Tahvonen in July issued a narrow bench ruling that those specific regulations amounted to zoning rules that are inconsistent with the county’s jurisdiction. This week he expanded the ruling and found that the wind turbine ordinances are “invalid, unenforceable and therefore, void.”
The townships argue the ordinances were not meant to prohibit the project from moving forward, but rather to make it more acceptable to local citizens. They contend they have the power to regulate activities on township property through public safety ordinances.
Fahey said the townships have already sought an appeal to the earlier ruling and have not yet decided whether to appeal Monday’s order.
The project, called Fowler Farms, received a special land use permit from the county in January. It’s been in development since 2008.
“We look forward to moving quickly to make up lost time and bring this project to fruition and delivering cost effective renewable power to Michigan electricity users,” Fowler Farms project manager Tim Brown said in a statement.
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