BAD AXE – Back in August last year, Commissioner John Nugent said the whole county is watching.
It was in reference to the ongoing work of the county’s Wind Energy Zoning Committee to revise the wind ordinance in the areas of setbacks, noise, shadow flicker and other regulations for wind energy.
Months later, in December, the county turned its eyes to Nugent when he made mention of retaining a Grand Rapids attorney to pursue a moratorium that would put a halt to wind energy development.
Much of the county has since responded.
Today, county commissioners are expected to make the final decision – likely in a split vote – on whether to impose a moratorium on wind energy development for up to six months in 16 county-zoned townships, where about 40 percent of the county’s population lives. Only five of the townships have not had wind development, and at least 125 turbines are in the works in other areas.
Residents, businesses, township supervisors and county officials are divided on the issue. Here’s where they stand:
Against a moratorium …
Leaseholders: Dave Damm said in December that a large percentage of his land has been eliminated from a Geronimo Energy wind park planned for Winsor and McKinley townships and that he’s down to two turbines. Damm said he was counting on “having a turbine or two for some stability with land prices going up and commodity prices going down.” It would be one of the few certain things out there, he said.
Robert Rathje of Winsor Township recently said he grows beans, corn and wheat and felt wind was “another crop to farm.” Others have sent letters in opposition to the county board of commissioners.
Businesses: Pat Lerash, owner of Franklin Inn in Bad Axe, said the amount of money developers spend in the county is “humungous.” He said money from turbines helps pay monthly maintenance bills, which totaled $10,000 last month.
Gary Malchow, manager at the Holiday Inn Express in Bad Axe, said since 2007, wind development has provided 10 to 15 percent of the hotel’s revenue. Local construction businesses also are opposed.
Township supervisors: Like many others, township leaders are split on the issue. At least five supervisors – in Brookfield, McKinley, Winsor, Sigel and Dwight – said they are opposed.
County officials: County Commissioner Clark Elftman said he would in no way support a moratorium, while Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said he does not find a moratorium necessary. Among county planners, Mary Babcock, Jeff Krohn, Ted Sheldon, Bernie Creguer and Joel Weber recently showed opposition as part of a 5-4 vote against a moratorium.
Supporting a moratorium …
Residents: Several have weighed in. The biggest turnout came at a planning commission meeting last week at the Huron County Circuit Courtroom. There, only two residents living in county-zoned townships where the moratorium would apply voiced opinions, one in support and another against.
But at other local meetings, as many as 35 residents took the floor, urging county commissioners to follow advice of the board’s attorney that the county could take a breather to revise regulations in the wind ordinance. Many others have sent letters to the board, some stating wildlife concerns and one even outlining a moratorium draft used in North Carolina.
Township supervisors: At least two are in support – Donald Heleski of Sheridan and Leo Emming of Sherman. Heleski said he does not think county commissioners would mislead the public, and hoped they were siding with the people. Emming said he thinks it a good idea to check more into turbine noise issues.
County officials: The board of commissioners voted 5-2 to send to the planning commission an amendment to the county’s wind ordinance for the moratorium. Board Chair John Nugent and Commissioners David Peruski, Sami Khoury, Ron Wruble and John Bodis were in favor. Among county planners, four voted in favor of a moratorium last week: Carl Duda, Robert Oakes, David Peruski and Board Chair Clark Brock.
Check in the comments of this story online at www.Michigansthumb.com for the results of today’s vote, with the full story to follow.
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