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Heritage Energy suing county; Wind company seeks compensation, accuses county of stepping on rights

MANISTIQUE – Heritage Sustainable Energy has filed a lawsuit against Schoolcraft County. The filing comes just over six months after the county adopted amendments to its zoning ordinance – placing numerous restrictions on the development of any wind energy development in the county.

The lawsuit was filed with the 11th Judicial Circuit Court on Dec. 18. It lists Heritage Sustainable Energy LLC and Heritage Wind Leasing LLC, both of Traverse City, Mich., as the plaintiffs. Schoolcraft County is listed as the defendant.

The court filing alleges that Schoolcraft County had taken away the plaintiffs’ personal property rights by adopting restrictive amendments to its zoning ordinance.

“Schoolcraft County has by exercise of its regulatory power has, by adoption of the Schoolcraft County Zoning Ordinance as amended, completely deprived plaintiffs of all economically beneficial use of plaintiffs’ leases, easements, MET (test) tower, road and GIA (generator interconnection agreement) in Schoolcraft County,” the filing states.

It goes on to allege that the county has “taken plaintiffs’ private property in Schoolcraft County for public purposes”, and that no utility grid wind energy system would be permitted within any of its lease property as the current ordinance reads.

In response to this taking of private property, Heritage says it is entitled to “just compensation” in excess of $25,000. The company also requests costs and attorney fees, and “other relief as the court determines is just and reasonable”.

Within the filing, Heritage claims it purchased leases from Schoolcraft County landowners from 2011-2013, at a time when the county ordinance “authorized the Schoolcraft County Zoning Board of Appeals to permit windmills or wind generators in any zoning district upon approval of a variance and site plan”. The company said it leased the properties with the intent to “develop and operate a for-profit wind energy system to generate electricity from wind turbines for sale to the electric transmission grid in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan”.

The filing goes on to allege that Heritage requested a variance from the original ordinance in March 2012 in order to build a 60-meter tubular tower for “the purposes of measuring the wind characteristics for the Heritage Schoolcraft County Wind Farm”. The request was granted by the county’s zoning board of appeals, and the tower was constructed.

Heritage claims the test tower confirmed the feasibility of a wind farm in Schoolcraft County.

The filing goes on to say that the county adopted the amendments to the zoning ordinance and these restrictions became effective June 12, 2014. The company’s lawsuit claims “under the terms of the Schoolcraft County Zoning Ordinance, utility grid WESs are not a permitted use, either of right or as a special use, in any zoning district”.

The lawsuit continues with specific references to the county’s ordinance and exhibits including those who have signed leases with the company and visual depiction of the ordinances’ perceived WES exclusions.

The lawsuit is listed on the Schoolcraft County Board’s agenda for Jan. 2, as part of an executive session.