BAD AXE – County planners on Wednesday approved Geronimo Energy’s plan to site 50 wind turbines in Winsor and McKinley townships.
In its Apple Blossom Wind Farm, Geronimo says about 40 turbines are in the works for Winsor, with the nearest turbine sited about three-quarters of a mile outside Pigeon village limits. McKinley is set to receive about 10 – nine of which are sited within two to three miles of the Saginaw Bay shoreline, with the closest being about two miles away, according to Geronimo.
A group of about 35 residents, county officials, attorneys and Geronimo leaders got a closer look at the developer’s intentions at Wednesday’s planning commission meeting.
A majority of the conversation focused on the principle and legality of putting turbines close to the water, which has become a contentious point. In October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined the conversation, sending a letter to Huron County recommending a three-mile buffer inland from the shoreline that precludes wind development.
Matt Zimmerman, a Grand Rapids attorney for Geronimo, said the county’s ordinance does not contain a three-mile setback from the shoreline, and thus officials cannot legally impose such regulation.
“It’s my understanding that there are other turbines that have been approved within the three-mile buffer,” Zimmerman said. “If that’s the case, to impose a three-mile buffer on this application would be what lawyers would call an equal protection violation. It’s a constitutional violation, and obviously that wouldn’t be a good thing for either one of us.”
Huron County’s corporate counsel Steve Allen said he is satisfied with what he’s seen in Geronimo’s application, and that it appears consistent with other developers’ applications.
“We’re stuck with our ordinance the way it is right now,” Allen said. “When I discussed the matter with (Jeff Smith) earlier today, I asked why we ever allowed that overlay district. Whatever the rationale was back then, that’s what it is today.”
Given Geronimo’s monetary investment, Allen said it would be a “quick way to buy into legal trouble if we change the rules at this stage of the game.”
Geronimo says it plans to install a military-grade radar system to monitor for birds and bats. The entire project would shut down in the event of a migration, according to Geronimo.
Also on Wednesday, landowners in both townships spoke during public comment.
Dave Damm said a large percentage of his land has been eliminated and that he’s down to two turbines.
“If you decide to go the three-mile setback, it will eliminate those also,” Damm said. “I was counting on having a turbine or two for some stability with land prices going up and commodity prices going down. It would be one of the few certain things out there.”
Bruce Baur said he works with his son in McKinley Township on a farm that has been in the family 150 years. He has 1,200 acres in the project, all within the three miles of the shoreline, he said.
“I don’t think we should put any restrictions that might limit our resources in the future,” Baur said.
Marlin Rathje of Pigeon said he doesn’t think the project should be halted because of the possibility of turbines killing birds, and that the project would provide a good source of income to landowners, the townships and county.
Before anything can go up, a few requirements must be met.
Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, said six turbines encroach on the property lines of residents not involved in the project. Planners agreed to require documents detailing setback distances, surety bonds and collection line depths before Geronimo obtains building permits.
“I do know of landowners that do not want to be affected by rotor sweep,” Smith said.
On Wednesday, member Carl Duda cast the dissenting vote against the motion to allow the project to move forward.
In 2011, county commissioners approved Geronimo’s overlay district in a 5-2 vote, with Clark Elftman, Steve Vaughan, John Nugent, John Bodis and former Commissioner John Horny in support. Ron Wruble and David Peruski opposed, with Wruble citing concerns for resident welfare and benefit to the county, while Peruski said he would not vote in favor of new wind districts until the personal property tax issue was resolved and the county’s noise ordinance amended – the latter of which is still being pursued by the board.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding