BAD AXE – County Commissioner John Nugent knows how to get attention.
After stating his intention last week to pursue a countywide moratorium on wind energy development, several residents, commissioners and the county’s corporate counsel have responded.
“I have no intention to deviate from what I said,” Nugent said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “I’m in the process of researching it, speaking with people, talking with attorneys. And when it’s appropriate, after the first of the year, when we have a new board in place, I’ll bring forward a resolution … hopefully for a full moratorium.”
Nugent is calling for a halt to wind turbine projects until the county’s wind ordinance can be updated. He said he doesn’t want it to harm responsible wind developers, but is concerned about the health, safety and welfare of residents – all of which he says are at risk if development continues.
But restricting developers without legitimate evidence or reason may land the county in high legal water.
“This is a tightrope that we’re walking when we deal with regulating land use,” said Steve Allen, the board’s corporate counsel.
Allen said it is his legal opinion that if the county has an ordinance in place, and a developer meets all criteria, “we cannot arbitrarily tell them no.”
“That would be part of the damages that they measure when they say ‘We’re going to sue you, as a county,’ ” Allen said.
Board Chair Clark Elftman said a lawsuit could create a “monumental” liability issue that the county could not afford.
County planners recently gave approval to Geronimo Energy to move forward with its Apple Blossom project. The developer plans 20 of 50 turbines for within two to three miles of the Saginaw Bay shoreline, in Winsor and McKinley townships. It’s a contentious point for wildlife advocates, while those with turbine contracts say it would bring valuable income to landowners, townships and the county.
Still, Allen said, “We don’t have to turn the entire county into an overlay district for wind turbines.”
“If we can show that it’s reasonable in this circumstance for the health, safety and welfare … (then) we can take action,” he said. “(But) it can’t just be based on speculation; it has to be based on evidence, reason … it can’t be arbitrary.”
Part of such reasoning could include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s recommendation that turbines not be sited within three miles of the shoreline, Allen said. Though not required by law, he said the three-mile restriction could factor in as a reasonable guide for commissioners to make a decision as to whether residents’ health, safety and welfare are indeed at risk.
Nugent said he is concerned about irreparable harm after turbines have been erected, and negligence on the county’s end as a result.
But a moratorium also may infringe on property owners. And adding further complication is the fact that 16 of the county’s townships are county-zoned – a moratorium wouldn’t necessarily apply to self-zoned townships.
Commissioner Ron Wruble said the county must be careful.
“What do we want this county to look like in five years or 10 years? How many people do we want to have living here? What is the quality of life of the people that are still living here?” Wruble said.
Not surprisingly, a moratorium hasn’t sat well with some residents.
Meade Township resident Darel Dumaw said he wants to make it clear that there are supporters of wind energy, and that he thinks those who oppose wind turbine development are not the majority.
Linda Dumaw, a retired nurse with 42 years’ experience, said she thinks there are no dynamic health-related issues stemming from wind turbines, and that she hasn’t seen any residents receive treatment for wind turbine-related issues.
Colfax Township resident Dan Ritter said comments in the newspaper have made farmers out to be bad neighbors.
“Well, come talk to us first before you start saying that we’re a bad neighbor for wanting to develop our property,” he said. “Why stop a good thing from happening? You should have the right to develop your property if its been given the right to develop it that way.”
With 328 turbines set to turn in Huron County by year’s end – nearly half of the state’s total and more than in any other county – new developments, referendums and moratoriums remain relevant.
“We’ve got more wind turbines than any other community,” Allen said. “A lot of folks around the state keep an eye on us.”
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