MEADE TOWNSHIP – The prospect of siting about 50 more wind turbines in Huron County moved one step closer to reality Tuesday.
In a 4-2 vote, Meade planners approved a wind energy overlay district for DTE Energy’s newest wind park planned for Meade and Colfax townships.
The decision follows months of opposition, praise and compromise toward wind energy development in Meade Township, both from residents and DTE.
Members Chad Gilbert, Chris McCrea, Diana Collins and Vice Chair Peter Shupe voted to approve the overlay district. Don Koroleski and John Osentoski were opposed. Chair Rob Heck abstained from voting, stating that he can possibly profit from the decision and that he was “very undecided.”
The Meade Township board has the final say in approving the overlay district, which essentially is DTE’s map designating areas within a county deemed suitable for construction of a wind park.
Getting the final go-ahead on a wind energy overlay district does not guarantee developers the right to build just yet in the townships. A site plan must now be submitted to and approved by planners and the township board before construction – scheduled for Spring 2015 – can begin.
The planning commission’s decision is contingent upon DTE’s approval of “opt-outs” planners have received. According to Secretary Diana Collins, 82 residents who are not participating in the wind park have signed and submitted “opt-out” documents asking to be excluded from the overlay district.
Joshua Nolan, a Toledo attorney representing resident Rita Parsch, said another 28 requests would be submitted Tuesday.
Heck said there is no difference between an opt-out and a non-participant.
“Basically, you’re saying you do not want any DTE money,” he said.
The process has been long and at times frustrating for some DTE officials.
“There’s a lot of patience,” said Matt Wagner, DTE Wind Site Development Manager, after Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Wagner said DTE is getting ready to submit a draft application to Colfax Township, where about 10 turbines are planned for the township’s northwest corner, north of M-142 and west of McMillan Road. Colfax Supervisor David Howard said he has not heard any response from residents toward DTE’s plans, and that the township has not encountered the same issues that Meade has.
“We’re getting more certainty,” Wagner said. “We don’t feel like we’re going to wait until everything’s cleaned up in Meade to submit.”
Yet in Meade, 26 residents spoke at the planning commission’s Oct. 7 meeting, where about 125 people packed into a standing-room-only town hall. Some welcomed the wind park, while many others opposed the idea or urged a compromise for stricter regulation. About 90 residents attended Tuesday’s meeting.
The call for compromise gained ground with a petition signed by more than 65 residents requesting township officials to amend the wind energy ordinance to increase setbacks, strengthen noise level regulations, regulate shadow flicker and limit the height of turbines to 400 feet.
Collins said she has received more than 50 documents, articles and studies related to wind energy that were submitted by residents to the planning commission throughout the process.
DTE says it has acted to voluntarily increase setbacks to 1,000 feet from all non-participating property lines, which exceeds the 630 feet current regulation in Meade’s ordinance. Officials say the extension will reduce the number of turbines from about 58 to 50 between the two townships. If that number dips much lower, the park may not be viable, according to DTE.
In a letter sent to planners, DTE said the changes would be assured if construction can start in or before summer 2015, and that the utility has had to redesign the park to address residents’ concerns.
“We … encourage those who had concerns with this project to meet us halfway, and help make these voluntary setback increases possible by not opposing this project by petition,” the letter states.
The topic of conflict of interest surfaced again at Tuesday’s meeting.
Of the seven members on the Meade Township Planning Commission, three have contracts with DTE Energy. Rob Heck and Peter Shupe have easements for wind energy development in Meade Township, according to documents in the Huron County Register of Deeds Office. Chris McCrea has multiple easements for wind energy development in Bloomfield and Lincoln townships.
Before voting, planners voted 4-3 to amend their bylaws. A motion was made by Vice Chair Peter Shupe to delete a portion of section five, conflict of interest. Members Chad Gilbert, Chris McCrea, Diana Collins and Shupe voted in favor. John Osentoski, Don Koroleski and Chair Rob Heck were opposed.
The deleted section stated members shall declare a conflict of interest and abstain from voting when:
• Family members are involved in an issue for which the planning commission is asked to make a decision;
• The member has a financial interest in the property involved in the request or has a financial interest in the applicant’s company, agency or association;
• The member owns or has a financial interest in neighboring property;
• There is a reasonable appearance of a conflict of interest, as determined by a majority vote of remaining members.
Members were, however, required to disclose their conflict of interest, state the nature of it and decide whether they can impartially consider what was being voted on.
Then came time for final board comments.
McCrea said increased regulation of wind energy takes away landowners’ rights.
“Making the setbacks so big and noise levels so quiet, you’re taking the ability of that landowner’s chance of profit off of their land,” McCrea said.
Gilbert commented on the gridlock that has resulted from monthly meetings.
“I don’t know how much longer we can keep doing this, meeting after meeting, the same thing,” he said.
Koroleski gained applause with his remarks, which ranged from condemning the federal government for living beyond its means and taking shots at former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
“We’re a government of the people, by the people and for the people, or is it for the big money?”
Osentoski said he would still like to see the results from a study by an acoustics firm hired by the county before moving on.
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