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Attorney says county can hold off on new turbines

BAD AXE – It’s time to take a breather.

That’s the discretion given by the Huron County Board of Commissioners’ attorney, Steve Allen, who says it’s appropriate the county pursue a halt on new wind energy development for at least six months.

“A lot of this stuff comes down to opinions and trying to predict the future,” Allen said. “It’s appropriate that we take some time … some breathing room to brush up the (wind energy) ordinance.”

But county commissioners have yet to take official action on a moratorium on wind energy. They’ll have to wait at least two weeks for the next board meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 10 at the county building in room 305.

Board Chair John Nugent said both a three-page opinion from attorney Mike Homier of the Grand Rapids Foster Swift law firm, a document the county agreed to pay up to $1,000 for, and advice from Allen both result in a moratorium.

Part of Allen’s opinion was based on the county’s master plan, adopted in 1993, which notes the importance of tourism and the county’s more than 90 miles of shoreline.

Which could mean including a three-mile “borderline” for wind development to protect the shoreline for tourism, he said.

Allen said depending on the route taken into Huron County, it can be “pretty obnoxious” to see turbines dotting a landscape in a county that for more than 150 years was “quiet, tranquil … a rural agriculture community.”

Allen said the county could take a “breather” (moratorium) because the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act delegates policing power to a county for zoning issues for the health, safety and welfare of residents.

Also of concern are court costs if the county is sued, which Allen said would add up even if the county were to win.

“Whatever happens, I’m sure it would be appealed,” he said.

Weighing heavily too are concerns from residents, who have taken to every board meeting since Nugent first outlined intentions to pursue a moratorium in early December.

The “sword-rattling” with talk of a moratorium brings people out, and, “bottom line, it generates a lot of attention,” Allen said.

Indeed, it has.

About 35 people spoke during public comment at Tuesday’s board of commissioners meeting. Residents, developers and attorneys took the floor, speaking both in favor of and opposed to wind developments while others sought tighter regulation. Nugent closed comment after 45 minutes to stave off redundancy and argument.

Geronimo Energy Project Manager David Shiflett asked the board to consider the feelings of about 112 landowners dependent since 2005 on a 50-turbine project planned for McKinley and Winsor townships.

Joni Iseler of Huron Township said she is looking forward to her contract with RES Americas, a developer with plans for 75 turbines in northeastern Huron County.

Others like Paris Township resident Robert McLean, who is on a committee tasked with helping revise the county’s wind energy ordinance, said the county should take time to revise the ordinance before moving forward.

Numerous residents have sent letters to the board, some stating wildlife concerns, support for a moratorium and one even outlining a moratorium draft used in North Carolina. Construction workers also have chimed in, claiming jobs at wind projects have allowed them to work in Huron County for the first time in years.

A moratorium at the county level would have a far-reaching effect on the 16 townships that are county zoned. Only five have not had wind development, and at least 125 turbines are in the works for some of these areas.

Officials say a moratorium would not apply to the 12 townships not under county zoning, and if a county-zoned township wants wind development during a moratorium, they can “opt out” and create their own regulations.

Before making a decision, commissioners are waiting on more input from a Wind Energy Zoning Committee. Commissioner David Peruski said a meeting is scheduled for Feb. 3 to review proposed ordinance changes from an acoustics firm regarding wind turbine noise.