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County approves wind district, but excludes Lincoln

BAD AXE – If the past eight months have not seemed like an emotional roller coaster ride for wind energy issues, the Huron County Board of Commissioners meeting reinforced that notion Tuesday morning.

The board voted 4-3 to approve an overlay district in Lincoln, Dwight Sigel and Bloomfield townships by DTE Energy.

Soon after that, the board voted 4-3 to remove Lincoln Township from the district.

“We’re in a legal no-man’s land,” Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said, adding that the board had approved two conflicting resolutions.

In the vote to approve the district, commissioners voting for it were David G. Peruski, John L. Bodis, Rich Swartzendruber and Clark Elftman.

This means that if a valid petition is filed, residents of the 16 county-zoned townships will be able to vote on the issue in a May referendum.

Voting to remove Lincoln Township from the overlay district were commissioners Peruski, Ron Wruble, Sami Khoury and John Nugent.

DTE first proposed the district in February.

It was supposed to include 22,080 acres in Lincoln Township. The remainder would be located on 5,760 acres in each of the remaining three townships.

Many residents, county officials and wind industry employees left the commissioner’s meeting confused about what they had witnessed.

When the meeting started, Nugent made a motion to place the resolution to pull Lincoln from the district before the vote to approve the district on the agenda.

Unanimous support was required for the change, because it was suggested late, and the board voted 4-3 not to allow it.

Khoury, Nugent, Peruski and Wruble voted for the change.

During the public hearing both before and after the meeting, many residents spoke passionately both for and against the overlay district.

Arlene Schipinski of Lincoln Township questioned why Nugent voted twice as a member of the Huron County Planning Commission in support of the overlay district, while his actions as a county commissioner indicated that he does not support the district.

“You’re contradicting yourself,” she said.

Nugent, who represents Lincoln Township, said he was interpreting the Lincoln Township Board of Trustees’ desire to form its own planning commission as the will of the people there.

The people of Lincoln Township will vote in May on a referendum challenging the establishment of the township planning commission.

The county board was set to vote on the overlay district in August, when commissioners were notified that Lincoln Township wanted to take over its zoning procedures.

The board sent the issue back to the county planning commission, which took no additional action before recommending it again to the commissioners for approval by a 4-2 vote.

When the vote to pull Lincoln Township from the overlay district was exercised, county Corporate Counsel Steve Allen had left the meeting.

Instead of having Allen come back to advise the board on the vote, the board decided to wait and address the issue at its next meeting.

Matt Wagner, DTE manager of wind development, told the Tribune of his company’s mixed emotions.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the initial approval of the wind energy overlay district, but the last minute approval of the removal of Lincoln Township was a troubling development,” Wagner said.

“We are now in the process of reviewing the implications of this action.”