County votes to slow the breezes for turbine energy; Commissioners want updated ordinance for wind parks
BAD AXE – “I don’t know where this is all going to go,” County Commissioner John Nugent said Tuesday. “But we have to begin somewhere on trying to control the irresponsible spread of wind turbines.”
Well, the path is leading into the hands of a lawyer.
On Tuesday, county commissioners voted 6-1 to pay up to $1,000 to Foster Swift, a Grand Rapids law firm, to draft paperwork for a moratorium on wind energy in Huron County. Commissioner Steve Vaughan cast the dissenting vote.
Nugent is pursuing a six-month halt on development of wind projects countywide. He hopes it will give enough time for a committee of the county’s planning commission to fully revise and update an “outdated” and “deficient” wind energy ordinance that he says puts residents’ health, safety and welfare at risk if more turbines are erected.
“That’s why I’m proposing this, so that research can be done, the documents can be reviewed,” Nugent said.
Nugent previously said his intent is not to curb wind development completely, or cause harm to responsible developers.
Though the board voted to retain attorney Mike Homier of Foster Swift to prepare the documents, some residents and public officials aren’t in agreement.
Ron Jaroch, Dwight Township supervisor, said he was surprised to see an article in the Tribune’s Saturday edition that reported Nugent was seeking legal help to pursue a moratorium.
“I had no contact with Mr. Nugent that he was going to do this,” Jaroch said.
Commissioners represent townships divided among seven districts. All have turbines except Nugent’s District 7, which includes Dwight, Hume, Lake, Lincoln, Pte. Aux Barques and Port Austin townships – a point Jaroch made clear before asking the board to vote down the moratorium.
“Now you want a moratorium. I think it’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” Jaroch said.
“It’s never too late to do something right,” Nugent said.
At the board’s previous meeting, corporate counsel Steve Allen said restricting developers would require reasoning and evidence, and that because the county’s wind energy ordinance is in place, “we cannot arbitrarily tell (developers) no.”
On Tuesday, the board asked Allen again for his advice. He said the county should proceed cautiously, but that the board has a duty, “in light of the fact that 40 percent of the county is not happy with wind energy,” to look at what the law firm says. It would be beneficial to spend the money to see the analysis and attorney Homier’s rationale, he said.
“It appears that Mr. Homier is well qualified in these issues,” Allen said.
Commissioner John Bodis said he would not have voted in favor if Allen advised against spending up to $1,000 for documents from the law firm.
“As far as spending any more money above and beyond that, I would be totally against,” Bodis said. “I just don’t want to see this $1,000 turn into $20,000 or $30,000.”
For Commissioner Jeremy Tietz, it’s “$1,000 well spent.”
“I don’t want this one motion to turn into it’s either you’re for wind turbines or against wind turbines – that’s not what this motion is about at all,” Tietz said. “This is just documentation.”
Filion resident Dale Ricker said he respected the board for considering a moratorium.
“Give it careful thought; we all now know more than we did two years ago about wind turbines and we’re going to continue to learn as we go,” Ricker said. “It’s not that everyone is against wind energy, but there is a place for it, and for those who don’t want it in their backyard would like to see some control and some protection for their family, their health, their well-being, property values, the whole shot.”
Others interpreted Allen’s advice differently.
“That you’re skating on very thin ice, and it could be very costly to Huron County, townships and residents,” Bad Axe resident Paul Holz said.
Commissioner Vaughan said going forward with a moratorium would undermine Allen’s credibility and ability to draft documents for a moratorium, and would question the ability of the planning commission in reviewing the county’s wind ordinance.
“It’s not in our best interest to pursue (this),” Vaughan said.
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