HURON COUNTY – For almost a decade, residents watched the landscape change as energy companies blew in to capitalize on the area’s wind and meet the state mandate to use renewable resources to generate 10 percent of energy by this year.
For many, Huron County’s wind energy boom represents the opportunity to increase their farm’s income or to find a construction job that allows them to sleep in their own bed each night.
For others, the turbines represent a threat to health, property values, wildlife and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.
Mounting complaints spurred the Huron County Board of Commissioners to consider a moratorium on new wind park development for at least six months. During the board’s meeting Tuesday, Huron County Corporate Counsel Steve Allen said he has reviewed the proposal and he agrees a pause in wind development is appropriate.
The moratorium would impact the 16 townships that are covered under county zoning, but those townships will have an opportunity to opt out under authority granted by the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, he said.
“Let’s say Lincoln Township, which relies on county zoning, happens to be a part of an overlay district where plans have been made. If the townships officials, responding to the citizens in their district say, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t want this moratorium in our township. We want wind turbines.’ They can create their own ordinance, and as soon as they create that ordinance, our authority dissipates immediately,” Allen said.
Board Chairman John Nugent inquired about the progress of the wind turbine ad hoc committee, which is drafting proposed changes to the county ordinance.
Commissioner David G. Peruski, who is a member of the ad hoc committee, said he the group plans to finalize the recommendation at its meeting Tuesday night, and a proposal should be ready for the next Huron County Planning Commission Meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Nugent questioned whether the moratorium is necessary considering how close the ad hoc committee is to finishing its suggestions.
“It sounds like they’re almost done, so it’s a tough call,” he said.
Allen responded that enacting a moratorium could result in a lawsuit from developers who have invested millions planning future wind parks, but he was hesitant to go into detail during an open meeting.
“One of the bad things about being truly transparent is you’re asking me to give legal advice right now when you’ve got the entire world on notice, so there are some issues that you might want to think about,” Allen said.
Nugent added the four closed sessions the board has held to discuss wind issues served to protect the county from litigation.
“Everybody gets upset about the fact that we had these closed sessions. Well, we have them for a reason, because usually it protects us from legal problems. … They’re always centered around potential lawsuits,” he said.
No action was taken Tuesday regarding the moratorium, but a vote is expected soon.
Approximately 35 residents and stakeholders attended the meeting to share their thoughts about the county’s plans regarding wind development, and many others submitted letters.
While those who support the moratorium were familiar to the board and repeated the arguments voiced during multiple public meetings, several newcomers talked and wrote about how wind development has improved their lives.
Jeff Pilarski, business agent for Laborers Local #1098, said his union has several members in the area who are grateful to have work close to home.
“It’s sad when I have members in Chicago and North Dakota because there’s no work in Huron County. It’s sad when I’ve got guys with unemployment problems in Huron County, and all your concerns are shutting down potential work, versus helping them,” he said.
He said other members drive from Huron County to Detroit and miss events in their children’s lives.
Allen said if commissioners vote to adopt a moratorium, residents would have seven days after publication to file their intent to petition for a referendum, which would allow county residents to vote about the issue.
Meanwhile, the board is accepting comments about the proposed moratorium, which may be submitted via email to BOC@co.huron.mi.us. Residents can also fax letters to 989- 269-6152 or mail to Huron County Board of Commissioners, 250 E. Huron Ave, Room 305, Bad Axe, MI 48413.