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Commissioners discuss possible wind moratorium in secret

BAD AXE – After meeting behind closed doors Tuesday to hear legal advice on putting a halt to wind energy development in the county for the next six months, county commissioners plan to open the discussion to the public next week.

Following a 45-minute closed session, Board Chair John Nugent said an open discussion will be added to next week’s agenda to talk about a countywide wind energy moratorium.

That meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the county building, room 305.

“There was nothing earth-shattering that occurred in that meeting,” Nugent said, adding that the board is still considering its options and there’s “nothing to conceal from the public.”

The board voted 5-2 to exclude public from the conversation, which was scheduled to include the written legal opinion of the board’s attorney, Steve Allen.

Both Commissioners Clark Elftman and John Bodis cited open dialogue as part of the reason why they voted no on going into closed session.

“There wasn’t any reason for a closed session,” Elftman said. “That should be public knowledge.”

Elftman said he does not agree with anything about a moratorium, “not since it was handled from day one.”

According to Bodis, the county should not have a moratorium at this point, and discussion should have stayed public because everyone was there and a lot of people had a lot of questions, he said.

“Do it now and be done with it; get it out and let everyone have input,” he said.

Bodis, along with other residents, commissioners and an acoustics firm hired to conduct sound testing for the county, say the county’s wind ordinance is deficient and should be revised. Setbacks from property, turbine noise and shadow flicker should be areas to revise, according to Bodis. And a six-month moratorium wouldn’t be necessary to do that, he said.

“I would hope that we would be able to revise some of the issues within our zoning ordinance in a fairly quick, timely fashion, once we get this (wind turbine sound) night study information,” Bodis said.

Bodis said two wind projects in the works have met requirements and that it wouldn’t be legally right to prohibit them from moving forward.

Wind developers continue to respond to the county’s consideration of a moratorium.

Mark Trumbauer, project manager at NextEra Energy, which developed Pheasant Run I and Brookfield Wind in western Huron County, said the company has invested $4 million in the past and has plans for more.

“We’d like to continue our testing so we can continue to put (meteorological) towers up and continue bat testing,” Trumbauer said.

Trumbauer said the company was looking for clarification on a moratorium.

“We want to make sure the interests that we have are protected,” he said.

That interest includes land leases in eastern Huron County townships near DTE’s Sigel wind park, but the company does not have a park planned for development in the county for 2015, he said.

Dan Ettinger, a Grand Rapids attorney for NextEra, said the concern is in the process of adopting a moratorium, that it is narrowly tailored.

“We support responsible wind development,” Ettinger said. “We want to be a constructive part of the process.”

Keith Iseler of Port Hope, speaking during public comment, said it “appears we have a lot of political gains going on here in this room.”

“If you do have a moratorium, it be open and above board, and that it not be simply a process or attempt to ‘by delay, we deny,’ ” Iseler said.

Huron Township Supervisor Bill Haas said the intent and wishes of the majority favoring wind energy should be looked at.

“The people in a particular project are happy with wind turbines,” Haas said. “I think this board should not try to stop that in any particular way.”

At past meetings, other residents respected the board for considering the moratorium, some in staunch support.