Meade gives green light to wind energy; Township rejects turbine moratorium on split vote
Credit: By Chris Aldridge Tribune Staff Writer | Huron Daily Tribune | August 29, 2014 | www.michigansthumb.com ~~
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MEADE TOWNSHIP – Officials in Meade Township voted down a six-month moratorium on wind energy development on Tuesday, following a more than three-hour debate with nearly 50 residents, township and county officials and DTE Energy representatives.
Township planners considered delaying wind energy development, in light of DTE Energy’s plan for a 58-turbine wind park in parts of central Huron County that include Meade, scheduled to receive 45 turbines, and Colfax townships.
Construction of the as-of-yet-unnamed, 100-megawatt wind park may begin this fall, with a completion date set for December 2015. It has prompted Meade planners to evaluate the township’s wind ordinance.
Taking action on a moratorium wasn’t on the agenda. After closing public discussion, however, the board defeated the moratorium 4-2. Members Don Koroleski and John Osentoski were in favor of the moratorium, while members Chad Gilbert, Chris McCrea, Peter Shupe and Diana Collins opposed.
Planning Commission Chairman Rob Heck abstained, claiming he’s “neutral on the subject and didn’t think a vote was necessary.”
“I don’t think we’re going to need one,” Heck said of the moratorium.
Heck said it would likely be a contentious meeting. He said because all other townhall meetings have fielded input from DTE, Kevon Martis, director of the activist group Interstate Informed Citizen’s Coalition, contacted the board and planners invited him to give a presentation.
Martis, a self-proclaimed science-based energy policy advocate, is a former planning commissioner in southeast Michigan’s Riga Township. He said the township’s wind energy ordinance was adopted as a state model, and that he volunteered to present to Meade planners and was “not paid to come here.”
“This is not in response to anything DTE has done or will do,” Heck said. “This is informational on our part … to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens in our township.”
After a presentation citing state government sources and others, Martis said wind energy is “not good policy for the state.” He recommended the board retain an acoustical expert to help revise Meade’s wind ordinance, and gave suggestions for sound levels, setbacks and decommissioning of wind turbines.
Heck added that shadow flicker – a phenomenon caused by churning turbine blades creating shadows and reflections – is not included in the current ordinance.
Which is unfortunate for resident Rita Parsch, who said she did not know of shadow flicker until attending a meeting recently.
“Now I’ve got problem, that I know a name of,” Parsch said.
She said a wind turbine that she “did not ask for” and thought was far enough away from her home wouldn’t be a bother, but that now “I have flicker, in our kitchen.”
Martis ultimately recommended the board enact a moratorium to better develop or amend its ordinance.
Heck cautioned the public that pursuing a moratorium would not mean there are intentions to block wind turbines from coming into Meade Township.
The wind park could bring significant money to the township to “pave all of our roads” and “reduce tax burdens,” among other benefits, Heck said.
“There are people that can make money on this, and people that can lose money,” he said. “This is a tough thing people. This is a darn tough thing.”
Parsch said she felt ignorant toward wind turbines, “decibels and all of this,” and thus feels intimidated. She agreed with Martis’ recommendation that expert sources are needed to help revise the township wind ordinance.
“I think you were going by the county’s recommendations, and in our local paper recently it said the people that are doing this on the county level, who maybe you even thought knew more than you did, as a group here, they’re even saying ‘I don’t know, we need an expert.’
“Let’s put the brake on, let’s do this right. Because there’s people that are hurting, because they didn’t,” she said.
Meade Township trustee Jerry McNabb, sitting among the public, suggested three possible solutions. He said there can be a vote, for or against wind, a vote for a 12-month moratorium or the recall of township officials.
“We do have a chance to change this boat that’s going in the wrong direction,” McNabb said. “I’m going to work very hard to make sure one of these things happen. I don’t live in Russia; all I want to do is see the majority rule. This is America.”
Township Supervisor Bernie Creguer said he confirmed with the board’s corporate counsel, Bad Axe attorney John Ferris, that the only authority allowed to make a change to the township’s wind ordinance is the township board. Meade Township is self-zoned, meaning it is not bound by county zoning.
Heck said a moratorium would help board members gather more information to make better, informed decisions. The board plans to look at the ordinance as a whole, gather facts and revise for setbacks, noise levels and shadow flicker, he said, with priorities of safety and reasonable use of property.
“We’re very much an agricultural area,” Heck said. “A lot of people are moving into the area because of the simplicity of life. There are a lot of interests on both sides.”
Tentatively, construction of access roads could start as early as October with turbine construction beginning in spring 2015, Heck said.
He also suggested the option that residents gather at least 60 signatures from registered voters in the township for a referendum, if decisions made by board members do not pan out the way they see fit.
DTE Spokesperson Scott Simons said the utility has completed studies for wind turbine siting, wildlife evaluations and other activities, and determined the two-thirds of Meade Township land signed up to participate in the project is a good location for a wind energy park.
DTE has not yet obtained permits to build, he said.
Typical ground rules were laid out for those speaking from the public at Tuesday’s meeting – no personal attacks, one speaker at a time, comments may be time-limited. Most residents abided, with only a few calls to order to halt the bickering. Conversation meandered off topic when one resident questioned the integrity of planners.
“We get 35 freaking dollars a meeting, that’s it,” Heck said in response to one resident’s bitterness toward the board.
Then came defining what a moratorium actually is, and in what context both Martis and the board were using it.
“‘Moratorium’ means restrictions of liberties for citizens,” Commissioner Steve Vaughan said. “It’s the first step in Martial Law.”
Martis said a moratorium has nothing to do with Martial Law. Heck then used his phone to consult Dictionary.com, and read three definitions of “moratorium.” The board decided it was using moratorium to mean “an authorized period of delay or waiting.”
After attending to other business, the meeting adjourned around 11 p.m.
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