ADAMS TOWNSHIP – Residents will have their say Monday in a decision that could determine the Range Towns’ skyline for generations to come, when the Adams Township Board hosts a town hall meeting to discuss the township’s windmill ordinance.
The ordinance, adopted in October after the township learned of serious interest from wind farm developer Farm Wind Energy, current requires wind turbines be set back at least 3,000 feet from adjacent property lines, roads or homes. Farm Wind says that setback is far greater than the norm for Michigan and Wisconsin ordinances, however, and would make their plan to install six to ten, 500-foot tall wind turbines unworkable.
Dave Hokens, one of Farm Wind Energy’s owners, has asked that the township amend the ordinance to allow wind turbines as close as 500 feet from adjacent property lines and as close as 1,500 feet from dwellings. He has expressed Farm Wind’s desire to negotiate a solution, but has also said the company would consider litigation if the ordinance isn’t changed.
“We have the option of not changing the ordinance,” said Township Supervisor Gerald Heikkinen. “If we don’t change it, they can’t do anything on Whealkate Bluff. (But) in their last statement at the March meeting, they said if we don’t change the ordinance there will be litigation.”
The public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Adams Township Hall in Baltic. Representatives from both Farm Wind and the township will make a presentation, along with a representative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who will discuss the possible effects of the windmills on wildlife and whether the project could be affected by the Endangered Species Act listing of the northern long-eared bat, scheduled for May 4. Township residents will also have the chance to voice their opinions.
The township board will likely vote on an ordinance amendment within a few weeks, said Township Supervisor Gerald Heikkinen, adding that Farm Wind has requested an answer by May 1. Heikkinen said he’s heard plenty of input from residents concerned about possible negative impacts of windmills, but he’s still trying to determine the tax benefits to the township, and hasn’t yet staked out a position on the ordinance change.
Hokens, a White Pine native currently living in California, said he didn’t have figures on projected tax payments to the township at hand, but that his representative would be presenting estimates Monday. He said that while a lawyer advised him the township ordinance could likely be challenged in court successfully, he hoped not to go that route.
“That’s not the path I want to go down,” he said. “I want to help people to understand the benefits to the community for a wind farm and for wind energy.”
If the ordinance is changed, Hokens said Farm Wind will still face other challenges. They’ve already performed a bat study and are working to address environmental concerns. Another factor is a federal tax credit for wind farms, he said, which has expired and been revived several times.
“If that’s not renewed it would stop the project,” he said.
In fact, Hokens said, this is the sixth wind project he’s worked on in the past seven years, and none of the others came to fruition.
He’s still a believer in wind energy, however, noting it could be extremely valuable it he U.P., where energy prices are out of line with the rest of the country. While residents shouldn’t expect an immediate electric price reduction locally, he believes wind turbines can be part of the long-term solution.
“It’s green energy, it doesn’t cost money to harness the wind,” he said. “You have to maintain it, but it’s not like burning fuel.”
Farm Wind currently has a 200-foot meteorological tower atop Whealkate Bluff to measure wind speeds and other data. The wind turbines would be about 500 feet tall, and would stretch to the south and west of South Range.
South Range resident Terry Parolini said she’s against turbines on the skyline, and that she feels the only people who would benefit are Farm Wind and the landowners they plan to lease from. She listed numerous concerns with the turbines, including strobe issues from turning blades believed to have caused epileptic seizures, the potential for fires in the summer and reduced property values in other communities where turbines have gone up.
“If the company goes bankrupt, those things are going to be stuck up there,” she said.
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