HURON COUNTY – Do you support putting a stop to wind turbine development in Huron County for at least six months?
Hundreds of Huron County residents have answered that question, flooding county commissioners with letters and speaking in opposition and support at hours-long meetings.
Responses also have poured in from residents as far away as North Carolina and Wisconsin. Several attorneys, both local and statewide, have weighed in. Developers, some of whom have come forward for the first time in months, made clear the financial and potential legal impacts a six-month moratorium would have on the fate of future wind projects. Local construction workers have spoken, and the American Bird Conservancy and local Port Crescent Hawk Watch also have chimed in.
But much less has been heard from leaders in townships that would be directly affected by a moratorium on wind energy.
The Tribune posed the question to leaders in 16 townships operating under county zoning. At a glance, five township supervisors say they don’t agree with county commissioners’ intentions. Three are in support, while four say they are neutral.
Wind energy contracts
Supervisors in seven of the 16 county-zoned townships have contracts with wind developers, according to the Huron County Register of Deeds Office. Only one of the seven – Daniel Koglin of Gore Township – supports a moratorium, while four are opposed and two neutral.
Here is a list of those with wind contracts, leases or easement agreements, according to the Register of Deeds Office, and their position:
• Ronald Yaroch, Dwight Township supervisor: opposes.
• Orin Engelhardt, Fairhaven Township supervisor: opposes.
• Daniel Koglin, Gore Township supervisor: supports.
• Melvin Drake, Lincoln Township supervisor: neutral.
• Linda and Jerry Beyer, McKinley Township’s supervisor and deputy supervisor: oppose.
• Robert Oeschger, Rubicon Township supervisor: neutral.
• Richard Maurer, Sigel Township supervisor: opposes.
Supervisors in Brookfield, McKinley, Winsor, Sigel and Dwight say they oppose a countywide moratorium.
A 50-turbine project for Winsor and McKinley townships received approval from county planners in December. Halting that wouldn’t be fair to Geronimo Energy and other energy companies that have already started development and “spent an awful lot of money to get where they are,” Winsor’s Supervisor John Kohr said.
Winsor currently has 32 turbines and is set to get 40 more with the new project. A moratorium wouldn’t be in the best interest of residents either, Kohr said.
“On the first 32 windmills, we’ve not had any opposition; we’ve not had anyone come to board meetings and express any concern over it,” he said. “I’m looking out my back window right now and can see 10 wind turbines. They don’t bother me.”
But as for any new wind projects, Kohr said he would go along with a six-month moratorium.
And if the moratorium is imposed, opting out of county zoning and creating a township-tailored wind ordinance is a possibility that Kohr said should be seriously looked into.
In Sigel Township, where there are 24 turbines, Supervisor Richard Maurer said the county shouldn’t take the next six months to revise its wind ordinance, because it’s fine as is.
“If they want to make some changes, make some changes, and go from there,” Maurer said. “But to set it back six months, for those that are ready to go in the spring, that’s not right.”
Jerry Beyer, deputy supervisor for McKinley, which is set to get 10 new turbines, takes a firmer stance.
“I think we’ve had enough studies and things, it’s about time to go ahead and let these people get their wind turbines put up like they were promised,” Beyer said.
Opting out of county zoning if the moratorium happens is “something we’ll have to think out,” he said.
Dwight Township could see its first 35 turbines as part of a new project. Supervisor Ron Yaroch has opposed county commissioners at meetings.
“I am for wind development and I ask the board not to pass the moratorium and let (developer RES Americas) do the right thing,” Yaroch said last month.
A moratorium would be a “stall tactic,” according to Brookfield Township Supervisor Charles Timmons.
“I think the county is going to be in trouble,” Timmons said. “It could get them in some legal trouble.”
Timmons said he isn’t against wind turbines, but he doesn’t want them on his farm.
“But if someone else wants them on their farm, that’s fine too,” he said. “(Property owners) should have them if they want them. It’s kind of late in the process now to stop them.”
Supervisors in support
Sheridan and Sherman township supervisors say they support a moratorium. Donald Heleski of Sheridan said he has faith in county commissioners.
“I think they’ll do a very good job for us,” Heleski said. “I hope they’re siding with the people. I don’t think they will mislead us at this point.”
Sheridan has five turbines.
Sherman Township has none, but some farmers have leases for turbines planned for 2016, Supervisor Leo Emming said.
“I would think it’s a good thing to check more into noise issues,” Emming said.
In the tiny townships of Fairhaven and Gore, both of which border the shoreline, supervisors are split. There are three turbines in Fairhaven and none in Gore.
“We’re not going to get anymore,” said Orin Engelhardt, Fairhaven supervisor. “We’re too close to the water.”
The same is true for Gore, according to Supervisor Daniel Koglin.
“We’re never, ever going to see wind turbines anyway because we’re close to the lake,” Koglin said.
Koglin said a moratorium would be a good idea. Engelhardt said he is neutral, and that there have been no complaints about turbines in Fairhaven.
Bingham, Lincoln, Rubicon and Fairhaven supervisors say they’re on the fence.
Donald Wright said Bingham might not get any more turbines.
“It doesn’t bother me because we’ve got our wind turbines,” Wright said. “It doesn’t affect us one way or another.”
Still, he thinks commissioners are “trying to slow the operation down.”
Lincoln township residents have not given much feedback for or against development, according to Supervisor Melvin Drake.
“We’re just going to wait and see how things play out I guess,” Drake said. “We’re kind of in a neutral position at the moment.
Lincoln has no turbines, but is set to receive one in a new project. Bingham has at least 40, and 10 turbines were recently put up in Rubicon, where Supervisor Robert Oeschger said a moratorium would not have an effect.
“Our township is so close to Lake Huron, we get very, very few wind turbines,” Oeschger said. “The ones we have right now are probably the only ones we’re going to get.”
Part of that is because the bottom square mile of the township is the only place currently OKed for development, per suggestions to keep turbines three miles from the lake, Oeschger said. The 10 current turbines are just outside the three-mile mark, he said.
A divided Thumb
Townships across the Thumb remain split on the issue. Of the 14 townships west of M-53, at least 11 have approved plans for wind development. At least half of the 14 east of the line have done the same. Lake and Paris residents decided in the past against development, while others like Caseville and Port Austin have pushed for tighter regulation.
Sebewaing Township Supervisor Nancy Layher and Grant Township Supervisor Michael Mandich could not be reached for comment. Bloomfield Township Supervisor Matthew Booms declined comment. Hume Township Supervisor Jim Roland did not return calls seeking comment.
The board of commissioners has chosen to refer the moratorium to county planners for consideration and comment, according to an agenda for the board’s Feb. 10 meeting.
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