BAD AXE – The stone will roll backward before it gets over the hill.
The task of creating a new wind energy ordinance became taller Wednesday, when county planners got another redo of the draft from a Grand Rapids acoustics firm. It arrived about two minutes before their 7 p.m. meeting.
“Basically the whole section was re-written,” Jeff Smith, county building and zoning director, said of proposed regulations for sound and noise from turbines.
Shortened from 22 pages to 16, the draft creates a new rulebook for wind turbines in county-zoned townships. But planners now have six new pages detailing sound and noise to review, lengthening the more than 18-month process officials have undertaken to overhaul the 2010 ordinance.
“They have greatly complicated what we tried to make simple,” Planning Chair Clark Brock said.
In a Sept. 1 letter addressed to David Peruski, a county commissioner and planner, Grand Rapids-based Acoustics By Design said while revising the draft, it sought language to “protect the general public from excessive wind farm noise,” while simplifying it to lean heavily on national standards for measurement and methodology.
It revived planners’ attempts to keep the ordinance balanced – making it readable to the average resident, yet fortified with scientific methodology that could hold up if challenged in court.
During public comment Wednesday, one developer offered to pay costs for someone from Acoustics By Design to visit the county and explain changes.
“There’s concern over having to pay (Acoustics By Design) to show up at the meeting,” said Mark Trumbauer, project manager at NextEra Energy. “I’m here to tell you that we would commit to pay for that.”
Trumbauer said meeting with ABD would help streamline planners’ efforts by having consultants sit at the table and explain how everything works.
Planners later unanimously agreed to ask county commissioners to request the firm come to the county so planners could ask the people who wrote the new sound regulations to fully make sense of the changes, possibly during a special meeting.
Following the meeting, Brock was asked if the firm’s response is stalling progress in regard to getting the ordinance in place.
“Did we make a decision tonight?” Brock said.
“Did we set a date for public hearing?”
“So, it extended the process,” he said.
Officials are working to finish the process before the county’s moratorium on new wind projects expires in November.
County Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said he liked the idea of bringing the firm to the county, and suggested developers put the offer to pay for the visit into writing.
Brock welcomed the gesture by NextEra and DTE Energy.
“I think it’s wonderful any time when someone steps forward to make county decisions move forward,” he said.
Earlier this summer, the county paid $7,000 for Acoustics By Design to review changes made by planners, mostly in the area of sound regulations, and send a final working draft. Last year, the firm charged $20,000 to conduct day and nighttime sound testing near turbines and write a sample guideline for regulations the county could use.
Officials say taxpayers won’t foot the costs, as the money comes from annual fees developers pay the county. Last year, the fees contributed $78,000 to the county’s general fund, according to Smith.
In Acoustics By Design’s letter, the firm also recommended not including regulation for infrasonic sound from turbines. Infrasonic sounds are those with frequencies less than 20 hertz, which is the lower limit of human hearing. Some studies show effects from the infrasound emitted from wind turbines contribute to nausea, headache and sleep disturbance, while others show there is no risk to human health.
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