BAD AXE – Are local businesses already making layoffs, following the county board’s recent move to prohibit new wind energy projects for up to six months?
One county commissioner says so.
But some businesses told the Tribune it hasn’t gotten to that point – yet.
Last week, at a county board meeting, Commissioner Clark Elftman said he had called around to ask if the moratorium on new wind projects would affect businesses near Bay Port and Pigeon. He said six to eight employees had been laid off immediately at Buchholz Trucking in Pigeon, two to four had been laid off at Wallace Stone Quarry in Bay Port and an independent trucker was “told he was no longer needed.”
At Wallace Stone Quarry, Plant Manager Eric Gardy said he has not talked to any employees regarding layoffs.
“There is uncertainty,” Gardy said, adding that there is, however, a potential for layoffs.
The potential exists with tenured employees – some that are working 65 to 70 hours per week could go back to 40 to 50 hours, he said.
Wallace Stone Quarry supplies limestone for the miles of access roads that are part of wind projects. Gardy considered it a “pretty big” part of the company’s workload.
“We’ve hired people just because of that,” he said.
For now, Gardy said the company is waiting to hear from county officials on the outcome of wind turbines in the county.
Operations Manager Blaine Buchholz previously said that wind development has brought jobs to Pigeon-based Buchholz Trucking. The company did not return calls seeking comment.
At the Holiday Inn Express in Bad Axe, Managing Partner Gary Malchow sent a letter to commissioners in March. He estimated a $260,000 revenue loss in 2015 due to the moratorium.
“I haven’t laid anyone off yet,” Malchow said.
Malchow says it’s too early to tell if he’ll have to. If the company takes the $260,000 revenue loss, though, hours could be reduced and there is potential for layoffs, he said.
And Malchow said the moratorium has made some noticeable impact already. He projected a $150,000 loss during the next three quarters. A $1 million plan to re-license the hotel faces uncertainty, and Malchow, in a letter sent to commissioners, says ownership is questioning if the company should “regress or evacuate the community.”
“I think what’s going to happen when we get to the close of 2015, we’re going to see the impact,” Malchow said. “It’s a bit of a tsunami. By the time people realize they’re dead, they’re just going to get pummeled.”
Pat Lerash, owner of the Franklin Inn, says the moratorium “hurts big time.”
“I don’t know if we’re going to lay people off or not,” Lerash said. “People just aren’t getting in the hours they should. … The bar is slow. It used to stay open to 1 a.m. Now it closes at about 11.”
Although it was approved April 2, the moratorium technically hasn’t taken effect. Commissioners made a change last week to exempt two current wind projects and let those developers move forward, as originally planned. That change is scheduled to be republished this week. The moratorium would take effect one week later.
Officials say the moratorium would be lifted when revisions to the county’s wind energy ordinance are completed and adopted. A new draft is 21 pages, according to Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning direct. That’s about triple the length of the 2010 revised ordinance. Planners are scheduled to review it at a May 6 meeting, Smith said.
Along with the two current wind projects, county planners are looking at Heritage Energy’s plan to add 15 turbines to the Big Turtle Wind Farm in Rubicon Township. Planners won’t issue permits to start construction while a moratorium is in effect, but a waiver provision could allow Heritage to go forward if approved by the zoning board of appeals, according to Smith. Smith said he has not seen any plans for new wind projects.
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