HURON COUNTY – The increasing number of wind turbines threatens the ability for a McKinley Township landowner to safely operate a private airstrip, an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association official said in a letter addressed to the county.
“Recently, the ability for general aviation pilots and the landowner to arrive and depart the facility safely has been threatened by an increasing number of wind turbines – specifically wind turbine T-30,” Bryan Budds, Great Lakes Regional Manager of the Maryland-based nonprofit, which advocates for general aviation, writes in a Jan. 6 letter to Huron County Planning Commission Chair Clark Brock.
“AOPA strongly believes wind turbine T-30 – located less than (a mile) from the runway’s approach and within the airport’s traffic pattern – poses a clear and significant danger for any aircraft operating from the airport.”
The turbine is planned as part of Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy’s 30-turbine Apple Blossom wind project in McKinley and Winsor townships. AOPA says the Riverside Airfield is located at the intersection of Richmond and North Caseville roads and has been an operational, private-use airport for more than a decade.
In the letter, Budds requests county planners postpone any permits or approvals for the project “until a time when safe ingress and egress from private airstrips in the immediate vicinity can be assured.”
County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said the McKinley Township landowner is a participant in the wind project. He said planners want to address Budds’ letter and the landowner’s concerns at the Feb. 3 planning commission meeting. Because the county received the letter at the 11th hour – Smith said it arrived at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, before the 7 p.m. planning commission meeting – planners didn’t discuss it.
“I asked Geronimo to address this also,” Smith said.
Lindsay Smith, marketing and communications manager at Geronimo Energy in Edina, Minnesota, says the Apple Blossom layout was approved by Huron county planners on June 3, 2015, and has also received approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and Michigan Department of Transportation’s Office of Aeronautics.
“We are currently working with the landowner regarding this matter,” she said in an email.
Jeff Smith said his office knew of the issue and Geronimo moved some turbines to accommodate the landowner’s request. He said he also stated to the landowner that planners would discuss the matter in February.
Part of that discussion could include a response to a statement in Budd’s letter: “Since the airfield does not meet criteria for federal or state tall tower protection, Huron County is the only line of protection for pilots operating to or from the airfield.”
“We strongly urge you to fully consider all impacts to safe aviation operations to and from Riverside Airfield before approving any permits related (to) wind turbine T-30,” the letter states.
But according to Jeff Smith, people choose where they want to put private airstrips in the county.
“We don’t regulate private airstrips,” he said.
Putting wind turbines or other tall structures a mile away from the county-owned, public use Huron County Memorial Airport, however, would not be allowed under the county’s airport zoning ordinance, he said.
“MDOT and the FAA would not allow it,” he said.
When county commissioners voted to support the Apple Blossom wind project last April (http://bit.ly/1bf2nIs), Project Manager David Shiflett said the developer made a switch that would situate turbines on a smaller tower and a rotor diameter covering 50 more feet.
“We’re still in compliance with the tall structures act and FAA,” Shiflett then told commissioners.
Geronimo has faced other barriers to the project, most notably concern and opposition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, some residents and wildlife advocates and former Board of Commissioners Chair John Nugent because turbines were planned for within three miles of the Saginaw Bay shoreline. It led the developer to rework the project, which Shiflett said was a “Herculean task.”
In a last minute decision in April 2015 (http://bit.ly/1bTTOUs), county commissioners voted to axe a section of the moratorium on new wind energy projects that would have allowed the Apple Blossom project to continue. An attorney representing Geronimo threatened suit, claiming the decision violated the developer’s due process rights. Commissioners then made a deal to avoid being sued and let the project continue during the moratorium (bit.ly/1E25voP).
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