HURON COUNTY – The Huron County Planning Commission unanimously voted to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. June 24 to specifically address proposed changes to the county’s zoning ordinance dealing with wind turbines.
During their regular meeting June 3, planning commissioners agreed the wind turbine issue has monopolized the board’s meetings and hampered their ability to address other county planning issues.
Chairman Clark Brock expressed hope that by the end of the special meeting, commissioners will be ready to set a public hearing, which is the next step required to change the ordinance.
“Come with your thoughts, come with your plans, come with your direction,” Brock said. “I would hope that when we leave on that night, if we don’t have things together, we’ll have it to a point to where we know what the last few questions and thoughts are so we can get the process moving on. I’m not anxious to have it take all summer. All of us have other things we’d like to get accomplished in the next few months, as well.”
He said whether planning commission members agree or disagree with the proposed changes, he wants them to come to a consensus and be able to schedule a public hearing during their next regular meeting on July 1.
To allow the commission to meet that goal, Brock encouraged anyone with information or materials they’d like the board to consider during the special meeting to submit the items in advance.
“If we’re really going to dig into it that night, whether we agree, disagree, want to use or don’t want to use, we need that more than 48 hours in advance. … Giving me less than 48 hours and expecting me to read something and have a legitimate conversation is not going to happen,” Brock said.
Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said any documents, information or questions related to the special meeting should be directed to his office and submitted no later than June 18. Documents may be sent via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or dropped off at the Building and Zoning Office, located in room 102 of the Huron County Building.
During public comment, Matt Wagner, DTE Energy wind site development manager, asked the board to consider DTE’s assessment to the proposed zoning changes, which the company submitted earlier in the day.
“I realize you’re just looking at it. We’re certainly not expecting any big discussion about it tonight. We realize you guys need to digest that. Hopefully, there will be a later date where we can come in and answer questions,” Wagner said.
NextEra Energy representative Mark Trumbauer reminded the board that the Thumb Reliability Loop, which went online in May, was a huge investment by ITC with support from the state, and it is the reason wind energy developers are so interested in Huron County.
He told commissioners that the company’s wind energy experts attend every planning commission meeting and are eager to help the board answer difficult questions about turbines.
He said NextEra submitted its response to the proposed ordinance changes in May. While the company supports the increased setbacks the proposal would require, the proposed rules regarding more restrictive limitations on noise levels and shadow flicker are overly restrictive.
“Those are things you really want to take a good, hard look at and make sure you get those right. We’re certainly supporting your efforts and want to make sure that what you do going forward is something that works for the industry, but ultimately, protects your citizens,” Trumbauer said.
NextEra attorney Dan Ettinger, of Grand Rapids, added the company is also concerned about the proposed requirements for pre- and post- construction sound-level testing, which it believes are prohibitively expensive.
“With respect to the compliance program, there are ordinance provisions that are making wind development economically infeasible. … If you make it economically infeasible for a wind developer to develop wind in the county, that constitutes exclusionary zoning, which Michigan law disfavors,” he said.
He said the proposed ordinance would unfairly require wind developers to follow completely different rules governing noise than other industries are required to follow.
“I know that’s something you’re struggling with and that you’re looking at, and I just hope you’ll continue to do so, because I don’t really think there’s a rational basis for some of the distinctions that are being made,” Ettinger said.
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