BAD AXE – The Huron County Planning Commission recommended a one-year moratorium on wind development Wednesday night, with exceptions for three county-approved projects.
The recommendation will be sent to the Huron County Board of Commissioners, who will likely address the issue at their Dec. 29 meeting.
The county board is not bound by the action of the planning commission.
Current projects for DTE Energy, NextEra Energy Resources and Sempra US Gas & Power, which have all received board approval, will not be affected by the moratorium.
The proposal was for a five-year moratorium.
During the public hearing, County Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber suggested a six-month moratorium.
This was intended to stop development until after the May referendums on wind energy issues, and until the planners have finished revising the Huron County Master Plan.
Commissioner John A. Nugent, who sits on both the planning commission and the county board, made the motion for the year-long moratorium.
The motion was amended to include that within that year’s time, the board give direction back to the planning commission on action to be taken prior to the year’s end.
“I’m not really in favor of passing a moratorium for a period of time without putting some stipulation as to what the direction would be at the end of that time,” Chairman Clark Brock said.
The motion passed 6-3. Voting in favor if it were: Nugent, Brock and commissioners Mary Babcock, Robert Oakes, Carl Duda and Terry Heck.
Those who voted against it were commissioners Jeffrey Krohn, Joel Weber and Bernie Creguer.
Weber made the following comment during the discussion on the motion.
“Again, it’s delay, delay, delay.” He added that the constitutional rights of the people “to do what they long to do” are being violated.
County Corporate Counsel Steve Allen told the Tribune that the moratorium, if approved by the board, would be in effect a) for one year from the effective date; or b) until all issues pertaining to various referendums are resolved, whichever happens first.
Lincoln Township voters have protested the township board’s decision to form a planning commission, which would eventually lead to the township becoming self-zoned, rather that county-zoned.
There will be a referendum in May to vote on that issue.
There is also a referendum anticipated in county-zoned municipalities protesting the board’s decision to allow the DTE overlay district in Lincoln, Dwight, Sigel and Bloomfield townships.
It also would not be surprising if Sherman Township conducts a referendum protesting its township board’s decision to form its own planning commission.
And with the board having approved NextEra’s application this week to build a wind park in Sherman and Sigel townships, a referendum protesting that decision may also come about among county-zoned municipalities.
Allen said that if all of those situations were resolved before a year passes, the moratorium would expire then.
Although the moratorium does not apply to the DTE park, no further action can be taken by the developer until after the referendum, Allen said.
The Sempra project includes the Apple Blossom wind farm in Winsor Township. Ground has been broken on it, and is expected to continue in the spring.
During the 30-minute hearing, 23 people spoke. Residents, wind developers and county officials were nearly evenly divided, in terms of supporting or not supporting a moratorium.
Before the public hearing, Brock read several letters supporting the moratorium and two that opposed it.
County Commissioner Ron Wruble, who proposed the moratorium, wrote one of those letters because he could not attend the hearing.
“What you and I think about wind turbines should not affect the decisions we are responsible to make,” Wruble wrote. “Those decisions must be made on what is best for all the people of the county.”
“Before the wind turbines came to this county 10 years ago, the county was blessed with some of the most fertile farmland in the world, and coupled with the temperate climate, Huron county is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.
“Since the introduction of wind turbines, our agricultural activity remains second to none. But can we say the same about the natural beauty of our area?”
Many residents who spoke in support of the moratorium said that the turbines damage the county’s landscape. Those against it touted the economic benefits that the wind industry brings.
Sally Kain of Meade Township compared benefits of the county’s wind industry to a drug habit.
“This is like a heroin addict,” she said. “The turbine money comes in and it’s a high that won’t last long. When it is all over, you’ll have drove down property values and drove out residents, and there will no longer be taxes collected … and Huron County will be destroyed.”
Lincoln Township resident Arlene Schipinski said that there is one full-time job created for every 15 turbines, and this encourages young people to stay in the county.
“We have to keep life if we want to remain alive,” she said.
County resident Nancy Krohn noted health problems that some say can abound from wind turbines.
“Our community has changed forever and not in a positive way,” Krohn said, adding that the issue is pulling people apart.
Mark Trumbauer of NextEra told the commission that no new wind farms have been built under the amendments to the county’s 2015 wind ordinance.
“Let your ordinance work, look at what you have done.”
He said significantly less turbines are able to be constructed as a result of the changes.