ESCANABA – After more than a year of discussion, the Delta County Planning Commission has voted to hold a public hearing on the section of the county ordinance regarding wind turbines Aug. 31. The hearing was scheduled during the planning commission’s regular meeting Monday night.
Last month, the Delta County Board of Commissioners sent the planning commission a letter asking them to expedite their decision-making process on the turbine issue. County Administrator Ryan Bergman said a few words about this letter during Monday’s meeting.
“The board’s just looking for a little bit of progress, one way or another,” Bergman said.
He also acknowledged any decision the commission made may have its detractors.
“This one could be contentious no matter what way it goes down,” Bergman said.
During its February 2015 meeting, the planning commission chose to focus on the issues of turbine setbacks, noise, complaint resolution, visual impact, and decommissioning procedures when revising the county’s ordinance on wind turbines. Most of these topics were touched on by the group Monday, and adjustments to the current ordinance were suggested for a few of them. An existing wind turbine ordinance in Huron County and documents provided to the commission by Garden wind farm operator Heritage Sustainable Energy were used as basic starting points for these tweaks.
One concern brought up during Monday’s meeting was decommissioning procedures for turbines – specifically, who would fund such a procedure. Heritage Vice President of Operations Rick Wilson said his company has written letters of credit to be used by property owners for decommission, backed by money designated for this purpose.
“It’s money that’s sitting there,” Wilson said.
However, as the commission wanted a bond to be used instead, a request was made that cost estimates for decommissioning be provided at the time of the decommissioning request instead of setting a fixed value.
Another major issue discussed by the commission was setbacks. Currently, wind turbine setbacks in the county are measured from the nearest existing dwelling.
“That (seems) to be a point of contention with some property owners,” Commissioner David Moyle said.
Despite the suggestion of measuring setbacks from property lines instead, the commission chose to leave this section largely as it was when it was approved for submission to the board of commissioners in a previous public hearing.
In regards to the complaint resolution process for wind turbines, the board chose to partially base its recommendations on the documents provided by Heritage. They also recommended any formal complaints received by wind turbine operators be sent directly to the county government.
Some citizens present at Monday’s meeting were not pleased by the commission’s decisions. Garden resident Janet Daasch said she was opposed to the use of documents from Heritage as a rough guideline for some ordinance adjustments.
“This evening, I’ve been watching you look to a company for answers to write your ordinances to protect the public,” Daasch said.
Garden resident John Gavre said he was unconvinced the ordinance contained sufficient guidelines for penalizing wind companies that do not completely resolve public complaints.
“Otherwise, they can just walk away and blow it off,” Gavre said.
In regards to these complaints, Moyle said the ordinance has not yet been completed. After the public hearing on the current draft takes place on Aug. 31, the ordinance will be submitted to the Delta County Board of Commissioners for final review and approval.
“It’s going to go through (at least) one more review,” Moyle said.
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