BAD AXE – It was a full house at the Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on Wednesday, where attorneys, wind advocates and members of the public were in attendance to hear the board’s 6-1 decision to approve a waiver variance for the county’s moratorium on wind energy projects.
The variance was granted to Heritage Energy to add 15 turbines to the Big Turtle Wind Farm in Rubicon and Bloomfield townships.
This was the first time the ZBA has been asked to decide on a wind issue, but the decision doesn’t guarantee that 15 new wind turbines will become a part of the view. At least not right away.
Members of the zoning board were voting to send a recommendation to the Huron County Planning Commission for its approval of phase two of the Big Turtle project.
“I don’t see any reason why we should hurry,” said Kenneth Griessel, who voted no on the recommendation. “I don’t understand why we can’t wait the two 90-day periods (until the moratorium is over). … take a deep breath and look at what they’re doing by putting them up everywhere.”
But many members were concerned the issue was deeper than personal opinion on wind energy. They were thinking more along of the lines of legal liability.
Heritage Energy’s attorney, John Devries, said that if plans were not solidified immediately, the company could lose the entire investment for phase two of the project.
“We’ll have an argument with the county if the moratorium were in place,” he told the board. “That will be a legal issue that we have to resolve. … We don’t want to have to get into a legal argument, but that’s a possibility.”
The board deliberated whether or not a moratorium could stand up in court, mulling over advice from the county attorney, Steve Allen, who also was present.
Allen presented the board with a timeline, stating that Heritage Energy had filed for the right to be granted substantial justice in March, before the wind moratorium took effect. He also reminded the board that two other wind companies were excluded from the moratorium under substantial justice for projects already in the works – Geronimo and R.E.S. America.
Because the project was already started when the moratorium took affect, zoning board member LeRoy Boesch said he didn’t see how they could legally deny the motion.
“The legal stuff is just a scare,” Griessel countered before voting.
During public comment, two members stood up to oppose adding more turbines, and murmurs could be heard throughout the crowd for both sides.
But in the end, the board was advised by Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith to focus directly on the task at hand – whether or not to recommend a variance to the moratorium for Big Turtle Wind Farm to the planning commission. And, they decided to pass it on.
Aside from this project, the planning commission is set to conduct a special meeting to address recommendations from the special wind zoning committee on revisions to the county’s zoning ordinance when it comes to dealing with wind turbines.
The meeting is open to the public at 7 p.m. June 24.
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