BAD AXE – Nearly two years of work came to a close in a two-hour session Wednesday night at the Huron County Expo Center, where officials agreed in a 7-2 vote to set sail the ship that is the new wind energy ordinance to county commissioners for a final decision.
Follow along to see the night’s progression and the in-betweens.
6:55 – About 75 people file into rows of metal folding chairs, leaving the first two nearest county planners mostly empty. Seating arrangement is based mostly on opinion of wind energy; supportive residents and developers on one side, those for stricter regulation or opposed to more development on the other. The room is loud with chatter.
7:06 – After a pledge and roll call, planners announce last minute additions to the ordinance. One exempts three wind projects from new regulations because they were approved on or before Feb. 10, 2015, another documents the six-month moratorium on new wind projects, from July 30 to Oct. 27.
7:09 – Planning Chair Clark Brock gives a disclaimer before opening public comment. He says it isn’t a debate or question and answer forum.
7:10 – Public comment begins. Brock starts as emcee, reading emails and letters submitted to the county from wind developers: DTE and NextEra say the ordinance is too restrictive, could eliminate development in Huron and both suggest changes. Brock reads a letter from Malcolm Swinbanks regarding sound from turbines.
7:45 – Brock is still reading Swinbanks’ letter. At least three people get up and leave. Some are hunched over, looking at their phones or making side comments. There’s only one cup of coffee on the table where nine planners sit.
7:52 – Brock’s voice drones on to one final letter. A couple chairs clang as people shuffle for comfort.
7:55 – Those living in county-zoned townships get a turn to speak. No one does.
7:56 – Brock asks if anyone in bordering townships would like to speak. Keith Iseler of Huron Township steps to the podium. He asks, “Are you going to allow me as much time as that letter took?” He says the 2010 ordinance is adequate and the current redo is “anti-wind.”
7:58 – Comment opens to anyone from Huron County. Three people rise. A line forms behind the podium.
7:59 – Gary Malchow, managing partner at the Holiday Inn Express, says turbine revenue has helped pay insurance and benefits costs for 25 employees. He says God continues to bless the business’ efforts with fertile land and windfall energy, and hopes “the Almighty” provides wisdom to planners.
8:15 – Richard Krohn of Elkton, at times raising his voice, asks, “If you don’t have your health, what good is the money?” in allusion to potential health effects and turbine royalties paid to landowners.
8:29 – Comment closes. Eleven people speak, five favorable of turbines in the county and six wanting stricter regulation or opposed to more development. Caseville resident and DTE Energy employee Michael Sage: “As we become more restrictive, it becomes harder for DTE to do business” in Huron. Meade Township Planning Commission Secretary Diana Collins says an active anti-wind group had spread fear and alarm in the township, and is doing the same here. Melissa Periso, also of Meade, says she’s lived 52 years in Huron County. Turning toward the audience, she asks “how many of you DTE people have lived here this long?” One says 66 years. A few heads shake, laughs and remarks follow. Brock: “Ma’am, ma’am, this is not.…”
8:30 – Time for planners’ comment. They flip through the ordinance. No one volunteers to go first. Brock initiates, saying they’ve gotten a lot of input and reviewed the process for many months.
8:33 – Member Joel Weber says there’s a comment that the current ordinance doesn’t protect residents’ health, safety and welfare. He disagrees. “Why does it have to be changed if there’s no problem there?” Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith says they’ve addressed every complaint filed with the county.
8:35 – More than 90 minutes into the meeting and it appears not a single head has nodded off. Vice Chair Bernie Creguer says new rules on setbacks will open “a lot of Hatfield-McCoy issues” between neighbors.
8:39 – Brock lays it all out on the table. “We basically have three options,” he says: a motion to pass the ordinance to county commissioners for a final decision, make minor language adjustments then submit, or table for further review and another public hearing.
8:56 – Brock and Smith question if the ordinance implies residents can “opt out” of a wind overlay district, creating consequences on planners’ end. “Once in a while we have put some common sense to what we do,” Brock says of resolving issues on a case-by-case basis.
8:57 – Brock calls for a “motion of some sort.” Member David Peruski motions for planners to vote to approve and send the ordinance to county commissioners.
8:58 – We have a vote: 7-2, with Creguer and Weber opposed. Planners hope to have the motion on commissioners’ Nov. 10 agenda.
8:59 – Brock responds to a county commissioner’s request for the reasoning behind ordinance changes, saying he doesn’t feel it necessary to provide case-by-case reasoning, and that they’ve had opportunities to attend many meetings.
9:02 – Brock says people are welcome to stay for the rest of the regular meeting or leave. There’s a two-minute recess.
9:05 – The room is gutted from about 75 people to 15.