BAD AXE – If you haven’t been to a planning commission meeting this year – or even within the past year – get ready to mark March 4 on the calendar.
That’s when county planners have set a hearing to get input on a six-month moratorium on wind energy. After the public has had their say, planners are expected to weigh in and bounce it back to county commissioners for a final decision.
Planners have moved the meeting from their regular spot in the county building to the Expo Center, at 170 W. Soper Road. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials also are scheduled to attend for the first time.
Jeff Gosse, regional energy coordinator for the Service, plans to present findings of a four-year avian study conducted at two sites in the county and explain in person and with more detail the agency’s concerns regarding wind development within three miles of Great Lakes shorelines.
“Very few counties have professional biologists working for them,” Gosse said. “We’re biologists; this is what we do for work. The planning commission is struggling with some very complicated issues and they’re not experts in this area. We’re there to say pick our brains as much as you can.”
County officials called on the Service to make a visit to Huron County after receiving a letter from the agency in October, in which Gosse wrote that land within three miles of the Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron shorelines needs to be protected from wind development.
It created a gray area for county officials – a three-mile restriction is neither a county ordinance nor a federal law.
Adding more confusion is a statement made by the Service that “absolute prohibition” of wind development within three miles of the shoreline “may not be necessary,” and that it could occur if it would not pose an undue risk to wildlife.
It left county officials wanting a more solid decision from the agency.
“It’s certainly not to tell them what to do,” Gosse said, in reference to the Service’s intentions. “In the end, the planning commission and county commissioners make the decision. If they’re willing to let me make it personally, I’d be happy to do that. (But) it’s not our job to tell them what to do.”
Out of “government to government respect,” Gosse said the Service is “leery to be more forceful” in making that decision. He also questioned how strong the agency wants to get on the subject, which he said would require more discussion among Fish and Wildlife officials.
But the Service’s position is clear.
“We’d prefer that there not be construction within the three-mile buffer,” Gosse said. “We think we’re going to end up with higher fatalities of birds and bats.”
However, there is “not enough data to say how many fatalities may occur,” he said.
“We haven’t seen any information that suggests that recommendation isn’t warranted,” said Jeff Hicks, field office supervisor for the Service’s East Lansing office.
The Service also plans to meet with county commissioners before the March 4 planning commission meeting.
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