MARION TWP. – Faced with a referendum in August, questions about conflict of interest, and a decade-old zoning law, officials here have placed a temporary hold on a proposed windmill project.
Exelon Generation, which wants to construct a total of 68 windmills in Marion and Bridgehampton townships, has run into a buzz-saw of opposition from residents concerned that their zoning rules do not protect the health and safety of citizens.
A successful petition drive has already put Marion Township’s newly expanded windmill district on the August ballot. Clerk Deborah Williamson says 139 of the 144 signatures on the referendum petitions that were turned in last month have been verified, more than double the 61 names that were required to force an election.
Now, the Marion Township Board, on a split vote, has completely stopped any pending or future windmill developments.
On a 3-2 vote, the board adopted the six-month moratorium on Thursday, March 3.
With a standing-room crowd in attendance at the Deckerville Community Center, township Supervisor Arnold McVittie broke the two-two tie vote, siding with those in favor of the moratorium.
“That was my recommendation to the board,” McVittie told the News. “We recognized as a board and planning commission that we have issues in our zoning ordinance and our wind ordinance established 10 years ago that need to be changed.
“We need to make changes. I feel we can work together and work out those issues and go forward as a township.”
Among the issues is the conflict of interest complaint raised by citizens and some township officials. Planning commission members Jon Block and Teresa Stringer, who oppose Exelon’s project, and Steve Thompson, leader of the referendum effort, are among those claiming planning commission and board members who hold contracts with Exelon for windmills on their land should not have voted on windmill issues.
McVittie said they need to get to the bottom of “what constitutes a conflict of interest and what doesn’t.”
Meanwhile, Block has retained the same Ohio attorney who’s advising a group in neighboring Bridgehampton Township that’s opposed to the Exelon project there, citing conflict of interest as a major reason why.
Block said the attorney, Joshua Nolan, was at last week’s Marion Township meeting and told the board that it had the legal authority to approve the moratorium.
“The moratorium was the absolute right thing to do,” said Block, “to allow the township to address the conflict of interest issue. And the other intention of the moratorium is to allow the township time to re-write the zoning ordinance to protect the health, safety and general well-being (of the resident).”
With the moratorium in place, the township will not consider Exelon’s application for a special land use permit until after the six months are up, said McVittie.
The permit is for 19 of the 40 windmills the wind energy company wants to build in Marion. Twenty-eight turbines are also planned in Bridgehampton as part of the same project.
Board members Karl Buhl (trustee) and Audrey Stolicker (treasurer) voted in favor of the moratorium, while Deborah Williamson (clerk) and Mark Roberts (trustee) voted against, setting up McVittie’s tie-breaking vote.
“We’re evaluating the impact a moratorium may have on the Michigan Wind 3 project,” said Kristen Otterness, spokesperson for Exelon. “We’ll continue to work with the township to develop a constructive approach to permitting wind generation facilities.”
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