Bridgehampton Township officials voted against a moratorium on wind development Thursday night, rankling residents already angry about ordinance changes favorable to a looming wind farm development.
Supervisor Michael Haggerty said the township lawyer spoke with the board of trustees in closed session Thursday, advising them on the different types of moratoriums.
After the closed session, board members voted 3-1 against a six-month moratorium. Trustee Katherine Kelly voted to approve the moratorium. Trustee Alan Innis was absent.
“I felt that the process has worked up to this point and that to prolong it for another six months wasn’t going to be of any value,” Haggerty said.
Bridgehampton residents have expressed concern in recent months about plans for the construction of 68 Exelon wind turbines in Bridgehampton, Custer and Marion townships.
Measuring about 499 feet in height, the windmills would generate about 150 megawatts of energy – enough to power about 44,000 average homes.
Residents are concerned the newly approved setbacks – 1,320 feet from inhabited structures and 550 feet from non-participating property lines – encroach on properties that don’t have or don’t want windmills.
Residents also have expressed concern about how those ordinance changes were approved, alleging conflicts of interest among members of the planning commission and board of trustees who hold leases with Exelon while voting on ordinance changes favorable to the Exelon project.
Roger Knight, a Bridgehampton resident, sent a letter to the board in December, pointing out the conflicts of interest and threatening litigation.
Bridgehampton residents also filed a referendum which they hope will stall the project until the ordinance changes can go to a vote of the people in August.
“We’ve turned in hundreds of signatures on petitions and letters,” Knight said. “… Still the board totally turned their back on the planning board, who they put in place to do this job.
“They made those decisions based on personal interest and personal gain.”
The push for a moratorium was the latest effort to stall the project and revamp the wind ordinance. In late March, the planning commission recommended the moratorium to the board.
Leo Sonck, planning commission chairman, asked the board at its Thursday meeting to pass the moratorium.
“Now that the site plans make it very clear what the impact on non-participating land owners will be, we have citizens attending every meeting, asking for this to be corrected,” Sonck said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “… We have the right and the opportunity to pass a moratorium on all wind projects and allow the Planning Commission to have everyone aware and involved in correcting the issues that are negatively affecting those who did not understand they would be impacted.”
But the board of trustees chose not to follow the recommendation.
“We looked at the pros and the cons,” Haggerty said. “We’re trying to find a medium ground that everybody can live with and we felt we had found it with the current (setback) distances.”
Haggerty and two other township trustees hold leases with Exelon.
Haggerty said township officials considered concerns from residents before making their decision, and voted based on advice from the township attorney. He said the board would not have made quorum without the votes of those with leases.
Without a moratorium in the way, Exelon’s application for special land use approval will be up for a public hearing in front of the planning commission June 14 at Carsonville Elementary School.
The nixed moratorium in Bridgehampton Township comes a few weeks after Marion Township passed a moratorium that banned all wind development except the pending Exelon project.
Residents picketed a township budget meeting after the decision, and maintain that similar conflicts of interest exist among Marion Township officials.
Signatures also were submitted in Marion Township for a referendum regarding a zoning ordinance amendment that would expand the township wind overlay district to accommodate the Exelon project.
The issue is expected to go to a vote in August.
In February, two wind turbines in the Thumb experienced failures, exacerbating concerns over wind energy.
On Feb. 19, a blade on a DTE Energy wind turbine in Sigel Township bent and wrapped around the nacelle of the turbine, flinging a 12-foot piece of blade about 120 yards from the base.
On Feb. 25, a 396-foot Exelon wind turbine in Elkton collapsed to the ground and spilled about 30 gallons of oil.