BAD AXE – A committee tasked with revising the county’s wind energy ordinance will remain in place, despite a motion made Tuesday by County Commissioner Clark Elftman to disband it.
Referred to as the Wind Energy Zoning Committee, it aims to rework “deficient” and “outdated” regulation set for noise from wind turbines. To help in that process, the county hired Grand Rapids-based acoustics firm Acoustics by Design, for a cost of $10,500.
On Tuesday, Commissioner David Peruski said another $1,600 will be spent for the company to conduct overnight testing. Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, says the bill will be covered using annual fees paid by developers, not taxpayer money.
But Board Chair Clark Elftman said it’s time for the committee to call it quits, about eight months after being created.
Commissioners disagreed, voting 5-1 Tuesday to continue committee work until a report from Acoustics by Design is submitted to planners and the board. Commissioner Jeremy Tietz was absent. Elftman cast the dissenting vote.
The nine members appointed to the committee, created Jan. 28, include commissioners Peruski, Steve Vaughan and John Bodis; Steve Allen, the county’s corporate counsel; Jeff Smith, building and zoning director; Clark Brock, planning commission chair; Carl Duda, planning commission member; and residents Robert McLean and Brion Dickens, who were appointed in March and April.
All nine members met collectively for the first time in May. Nearly 20 residents attended, voicing complaints and concerns of noise from wind turbines.
Kenric Van Wyk, president of the acoustics firm, visited the county earlier this month, stopping to inspect “spots known to give us problems in the past,” Peruski said. The tour included wind parks in eastern and western Huron County and Sigel Township.
“At this point, we need to cover all the angles,” Peruski said.
In August, Peruski said the ad-hoc committee would likely have a recap meeting and submit final results of studies to planners and commissioners.
“Why do you feel (the committee’s objective) has been achieved when the study is ongoing?” Peruski said.
“They have the report to give to the planning commission, and that is the final objective,” Elftman said.
“There’s no report done,” Commissioners Ron Wruble and Peruski said.
“The report will be done and we’ve discussed this before,” Elftman said.
Then came a butting of logic, when Peruski asked how a committee could have a “wrap-up” meeting if it didn’t exist.
“It can be done,” Elftman said, clarifying that Peruski and the legislative committee could present Acoustics by Design’s report.
Elftman’s concern comes from committee member Robert McLean, who identified as vice chair of the “Huron County wind turbine subcommittee” when speaking at an Oct. 7 Meade Township meeting.
It resulted in a debate of semantics at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“There is no Huron County Wind Energy subcommittee,” Elftman said. “It’s not a subcommittee; it’s an ad-hoc committee. That committee was dissolved almost a month ago.”
But that wasn’t all that irked Elftman.
At the Meade Township meeting, McLean – a Paris Township resident appointed to the committee by commissioners – made remarks that the county is increasing setbacks from wind overlay districts, and that one acoustics firm interviewed at the county level said the ordinance “has holes in it big enough to drive a Mack truck through it.”
“I don’t want people that are not members of this board going out and saying they are members of this board, and then putting the responsibility on this board for things that they should have been responsible for,” Elftman said.
Commissioner John Nugent said it might be “dangerous” to dissolve the committee prior to completing its work.
“A lot of people are hurt by the wind turbines and they’re hoping that there will some corrections to the zoning ordinance as a result of the work being done by the subcommittee,” Nugent said. “It’s dangerous to just cast them aside because of the activity of one person, because I think what they are doing is very beneficial. Everybody’s pointed out the deficiencies in the ordinance.”
“It’s not that, John,” Elftman said. “It’s because the committee was created for a specific purpose, and that was to review the noise part of the ordinance. That committee has done its part with the noise part. That’s why ‘ad-hoc’ means ‘for this.’ ”
Commissioner John Bodis said meetings became polarized with regard to opinions on wind energy, and that he was looking for objective information.
“If we have representation from the public on this ad-hoc committee, damn right it’s going to be polarized,” Wruble said.
Commissioners then argued the committee’s productivity.
“Every time we meet, it’s a cluster – and you know exactly what I mean,” Commissioner Steve Vaughan said. “The public ran every one of those meetings. The public shouldn’t be involved in that ad-hoc committee.”
Peruski disagreed, staunchly defending as “chair of an abandoned committee” that public input is important and restricting it would bring problems. He said all committee members have made contributions.
According to its proposal, Acoustics by Design will help create an updated noise ordinance as it applies to commercial wind turbine noise. The company will prepare and submit a template for such an ordinance, identifying appropriate levels for audible noise and sound pressure or other phenomena, such as vibrations, “that may have an impact on the health and safety of humans residing in close proximity to a wind energy facility.”