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Wind zoning public hearing Wednesday

HURON COUNTY – After more than a year investigating and deliberating the regulations necessary for safely siting wind turbines in the county, the Huron County Planning Commission hopes to finally remove the proposed ordinance from its agenda after next week.

Planning Commissioners will conduct a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the Huron County Expo Center, located at 170 W. Soper Road in Bad Axe.

A regular meeting will take place after the public hearing, during which planning commissioners are expected to vote to send the revised ordinance to the Huron County Board of Commissioners for approval.

The ordinance will apply to the 16 townships under the county’s zoning jurisdiction.

Planning commissioners have said they hope the county board will either approve the new ordinance in its entirety or send it back to the planning commission for revisions.

During Tuesday’s regular Board of Commissioners meeting, Board Chairman John Nugent said he has concerns about changes the planning commissioners made after receiving proposed ordinance changes from the county’s Wind Energy Zoning Committee, an ad hoc committee created by county commissioners in early 2014 to investigate wind energy and advise the planning commission.

“A lot of it I support, but a lot of it I disagree with,” Nugent said.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s commissioner’s meeting, Wind Energy Zoning Committee member Robert McLean said he is frustrated by the changes made by the planning commission because the ad hoc committee devoted nearly a year to creating an ordinance that protects county residents.

He said he fears changes made by planning commissioners meet the needs of wind developers at the risk of the health, safety and welfare of those who live near turbines.

Some of the more hotly debated wind turbine issues include:

• Shadow flicker: Although the ad hoc committee suggested shadow flicker be limited to 10 hours per year for non-participating homes, planning commissioners increased the limit to 30 hours per year for participants and non-participants. Homeowners may sign a waiver to allow a wind energy facility to exceed the limit. Flicker is not addressed in the county’s current ordinance.

• Setbacks: The proposed ordinance increases the turbine setback from inhabited structures to 1,320 feet on participating parcels to 1,640 feet on non-participating parcels, an increase of 320 for each. Some residents have argued the setbacks are not enough to protect residents.

• Decibel limits: While the consulting firm Acoustics By Design (ABD) suggested a 45 decibel limit at non-participating properties between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., the wind committee set the limit at 40 dBA. After the planning commission reviewed multiple documents, including information from the World Health Organization, the board changed the limit back to 45 dBA.

• Post construction testing: ABD advised the county to require one testing site per turbine, a proposal fervently resisted by wind developers, who claimed the requirement would be onerous. Sound experts hired by wind energy companies said the industry standard is around one location for every eight turbines. Planning commissioners compromised by requiring a three to one testing ratio.

• Infrasound: Following the advice of ABD, the planning commission chose not to set requirements regarding infrasound, which many believe causes health problems in people who live near turbines. ABD suggested the county wait until the American National Standards Institute publishes standards to measure the sub-audible noise.