March 6, 2015

County planners vote 5-4 for no pause in wind energy

By Chris Aldridge, Tribune Staff Writer | Huron Daily Tribune | March 6, 2015 |

BAD AXE – About 150 residents packed into Huron County’s Circuit Courtroom Wednesday night to help county planners decide whether there should be a stop on wind energy development for up to six months.

Planners voted 5-4 against recommending a wind moratorium. The final decision now rests with the county board of commissioners.

Members Mary Babcock, Jeff Krohn, Ted Sheldon, Bernie Creguer and Joel Weber voted against a moratorium, while Carl Duda, Robert Oakes, David Peruski and Board Chair Clark Brock were in support.

During the public hearing, 10 residents said they were against such a moratorium and eight agreed it is a good idea.

Residents living in the 16 county-zoned townships where the moratorium would apply were allowed to speak first. More than 40 percent of the county’s population lives in these townships, but only two voiced opinions.

Robert Rathje of Winsor Township said he grows beans, corn and wheat and felt wind was “another crop to farm.”

Mary Nowak of Bingham Township said she “can hardly sleep because of the turbine noise in my bedroom.”

Noise is one of several issues the county’s Wind Energy Zoning Committee is trying to iron out as it examines and revises a wind energy ordinance to modernize regulation on wind turbines in the county. Some county officials say the moratorium would allow the time to do just that.

Supporters said they are concerned with effects wind turbines have on residents’ health, safety and welfare; noise and disturbances from those living near wind turbines; and an ordinance some county officials have deemed “outdated and inefficient,” that, without reworking, may not be strong enough to protect residents.

Tim Lallely of Lake Township said his family has had no serious issues with a turbine in Chandler Township, one mile south of his house, but that two others within a half-mile “have changed our lives drastically.”

“We have shadow flicker dancing on our walls every morning when the sun comes up. We have been forced to sleep with a fan running in our room all night long to mask the mechanical noise from the turbines,” Lalley said.

Others, like Jean Swinbanks of Port Hope, felt “stampeded” and “blindsided” by rapid development of turbines.

The hearing also brought forward competing concerns made by residents – some who have signed wind energy leases for future developments – business owners, and developers.

Pat Lerash, owner of Franklin Inn in Bad Axe, said the amount of money developers spend in the county is “humungous.”

“There’s a lot of people that think if you’re in business, you’re rich; I’m telling you, they’re wrong,” Lerash said. “We spent $10,000 in the last month just on maintenance, and these guys really help us out on that. You know, like, your boiler and refrigeration systems. … I really appreciate the money that these people spend in the county.”

Gary Malchow, manager at the Holiday Inn Express in Bad Axe, said since after 2007, wind development has provided 10 to 15 percent of the hotel’s revenue.

Some small business owners also support wind energy. Martin Gentner said his excavating business has been able to add many jobs due to wind development.

“I think that it’s the best interest that we work together with the developers instead of having the state step in,” Gentner said.

Opponents of the moratorium flagged local business boons, the rights of landowners who have signed contracts and the threat of edging closer to putting zoning decisions in the hands of the state.

Planners’ frustration mounted when it came time to vote.

Weighing in on a moratorium is like putting the cart in front of the horse, according to member Bernie Creguer, who said the reason why planners have not made a recommendation was because they did not receive one to consider in the first place.

Chair Clark Brock said he was neither thrilled nor happy.

“They basically said to us, ‘Here, do it.’ ” Brock said of county commissioners.

Commissioners are scheduled to make the final vote at their 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting in the county building.

Commissioner Clark Elftman said in February he would in no way support a moratorium. Both Elftman and Rich Swartzendruber cast the dissenting votes in a 5-2 decision that sent the matter to the planning commission. Commissioner John Bodis voiced concerns of violating commissioners’ oath of office and the law.

Issues in turbine height, speed, noise and setbacks from property should be revised, according to Commissioner Sami Khoury, who said he is in favor of a moratorium.

Commissioner and Finance Chair Ron Wruble – who has called the county’s turbine revenue a “spit in the ocean” compared to agricultural revenue and was unimpressed with figures of 22 full-time jobs from more than $1 billion in turbine investments compared to a $32 million expansion creating 32 full-time positions for a manufacturer in Harbor Beach – also voted to further pursue a moratorium.

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