While the Huron County Planning Commission and the Board of Commissioners have butted heads over several details of revisions to wind turbine zoning regulations, they strongly concur in three areas: the new ordinance must be enforceable, defendable in court and comprehensible to the general public.
The boards discovered writing an ordinance that meets all three of those goals is a challenge after a draft sent to sound consultants Acoustics by Design came back with multiple revisions, many of which make the document incomprehensible to an average person.
Wind developers have also expressed concerns about the revisions, saying changes to noise testing requirements are onerous compared to those stated in the original draft.
Huron County Planning Commission Chairman Clark Brock said making changes to ABD’s revisions could put the county at risk for litigation, as part of ABD’s job was to ensure the ordinance would stand up in court.
Last Wednesday, planning commission members voted to request a faceto face meeting with the ABD experts who revised the draft so everyone can work together to make it scientifically accurate and specific, but with simple enough language so residents won’t need to hire a lawyer or scientist to understand it.
On Tuesday, commissioners voted 6-1 to set up a meeting between ABD and the planning commission at a cost not to exceed $7,500. Commissioner Clark Elftman cast the dissenting vote.
Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber strongly urged fellow board members to attend the meeting, as the commissioners will have to vote whether to accept the ordinance changes. Once the revised ordinance comes to commissioners, he hopes the board will either vote to accept the entire document as is or vote against it.
“I do not want to see this board try to pick apart what the planning commission has spent months working on,” Swartzendruber said. “I really believe it would be an insult to the planning commission, who have been working hard and are doing their job well.”
Swartzendruber, who was present during planning commission meeting, said during public comment he supported having a face-to-face meeting with ABD representatives.
“Inevitably, there are going to be questions that are going to arise, and rather than send correspondence back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and dragging the process out, I think it would be much better to have a meeting like that,” he said.
Brock asked Swartzendruber to urge other commissioners to attend the meeting.
“Our requests sometimes go on deaf ears, and maybe if we have additional requests, it could help with that process,” Brock said.
Planning commission members expressed frustration with changes ABD made to the draft ordinance, which many said were impossible for a lay person to comprehend.
“We want it to be scientific enough that the ordinance is defendable and makes sense … but we also want it to be so if someone reads it makes sense and they can understand what it says,” Brock said.
While reviewing the changes, planning commissioners who have experience reading and interpreting ordinances struggled to understand the document.
“As we sit here tonight, and I read this, I’ve already heard three different opinions of what those five sentences say,” Brock said after reviewing part of the draft. “If there’s that many of us sitting in this room who have been working on this for as long as we have, and we get five sentences and we have three different opinions on what those five sentences say at this point, it certainly, to me, would not be clear and defendable. I would prefer that we try to find a method that is clear, practical and so that if you read it, you can understand what it says,” he said.
During both the commissioner’s meeting and the planning meeting, representatives of local wind developers offered to pay the cost of ABD’s attendance at a meeting.
On Tuesday, commissioners agreed accepting the offer would not be appropriate.
“I don’t want there to be any kind of perception that the wind companies are influencing Acoustics By Design,” Chairman John Nugent said.
Swartzendruber concurred and added the meeting will be funded with fees paid by turbine developers annually, which are collected to allow the county to pay for costs associated with regulating the industry.
Planning Director Jeff Smith is working with ABD to schedule the meeting, and a date had not yet been decided as of press time.
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