BAD AXE – Some residents may hear noise from wind turbines, but shelling out $27,000 can be a bit less audible.
That’s the quietly accumulating bill the county faces from a Grand Rapids-based acoustics firm for its role in creating a new wind energy ordinance. Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to pay $7,000 to the firm to review the latest revisions to the wind turbine rule book.
“We’re asking them to take the current draft, look through it,” review mostly sound sections and “provide a final working draft,” said Jeff Smith, county building and zoning director.
Smith said it was “very important” that Acoustics By Design reviews Huron County’s proposed wind ordinance. Nearly half of the 22-page draft sets regulations for turbine sound and noise.
The county also submitted peer-reviewed studies from other acoustical experts working with wind developers – who helped formulate changes after Acoustics By Design, an independent firm, created a guideline for the county.
“That’s what I’ve asked for all along,” Smith said. “To find someone with no skin in the game. I pushed for that all along.”
Officials say taxpayers won’t foot the costs, as the money comes from annual fees developers pay the county.
Last year, for example, the fees contributed about $78,000 to the county’s general fund, Smith said. It helps pay for costs to hold wind subcommittee meetings, salaries for county planners and extra staffing in the building and zoning office, he said.
“It’s coming out of the general fund, but zoning compliance fees are going into the general fund too,” Smith said.
In 2005, commissioners set fees wind developers must pay for costs of administering wind ordinances. Charges include $800 per turbine and substation for planners to review projects; $400 per turbine for annual inspection reports; and $2,000 per amendment to overlay districts. For building permits, the fee was set at $10 per foot of tower height.
For a county with such few formal complaints filed – Smith said there have been three as of the end of March – it’s still important to fortify the ordinance with detailed sound regulations, according to Smith, because when people talk about wind turbines, “noise is always in the discussion.”
And, the seal of approval from Acoustics By Design would help remedy recurring concerns officials have for if the county is taken to court for exclusionary zoning – and an ordinance some developers have already claimed is too restrictive.
“We’re going to call on that expert to testify,” Smith said if officials approve Acoustics By Design’s draft language and are ordered to explain the validity of the ordinance.
Last year, commissioners agreed to pay more than $20,000 for Acoustics By Design to conduct day and nighttime sound testing near turbines. The firm also wrote a sample guideline for sound and noise regulations the county could use.
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