BAD AXE – The Huron County Board of Commissioners imposed a yearlong moratorium on wind energy development Thursday, with the exception of three approved projects.
The moratorium does not apply to upcoming projects by DTE Energy in Filion, Sempra US Gas & Power in Winsor Township, or NextEra Energy Resources in Sherman and Sigel townships.
It would be in effect for either one year from Jan. 18 or until all issues pertaining to various wind energy-related referendums are resolved, whichever happens first.
This will also give the Huron County Planning Commission time to update its Master Plan.
The vote was 5-1, with Commissioner Clark Elftman voting against it. Commissioner Ron Wruble, who has been in favor of a moratorium, was absent due to a death in his immediate family.
“I wouldn’t vote for this thing if it said the moratorium was only gonna last 20 minutes,” Elftman said, after describing the resolution as “a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
“This board neglected their obligation. (It) tabled issues that shouldn’t have been tabled and finally came up with the same result that should have been done in the first place, and I think this is just another attempt to do that stuff.”
Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said that the resolution as first proposed by Wruble, which called for a five-year moratorium, was unnecessary.
But Swartzendruber said he is willing to back the yearlong version that was recommended by the planners earlier this month, in order to allow the referendums and an updated Master Plan.
Corporate Counsel Steve Allen said that when Wruble approached him about taking action to halt wind development in the county, Wruble “felt overwhelmed,” and felt his constituency was overwhelmed, and that the wind development in the county had reached the saturation point.
In a letter to the planners, Wruble stated that he wasn’t committed to the five-year length of the moratorium.
“I was surprised he backed off the five years,” Allen said.
The board can renew the moratorium at any time, he added.
The planning commission would offer analysis after anticipated May referendums in Lincoln and, possibly, Sherman townships, both of which are considering self-zoning.
The decision by the board to allow the overlay zones for the DTE and NextEra projects may also be challenged in referendums, and the moratorium would outlast such votes as well.
Even though the meeting room was packed with members of the public, local officials and wind energy officials, just two people spoke during the first public comment period.
They were Denise Rice of Lincoln Township, and Robert Gaffke of Port Hope, both of whom supported the moratorium.
Rice asked if there had been anything submitted in writing by NextEra regarding promises it has made publicly regarding its development.
She also called on the board to back its Dec. 13 action to approve the NextEra overlay district, which many board members said was done in order to “let the people decide” via referendum.
A referendum is only possible if the board approves the project.
“With that, we are asking that you hold up your end of this decision, and each of you gather just 50 signatures to make that happen,” Rice said. “We do not want to hear excuses, such as, ‘I cannot, I am an official.’ Nowhere does it state that you are not permitted to collect signatures to put a proposal on the ballot to let the people decide.”
She distributed a packet for each board member, containing petitions, an informational letter and an instruction sheet.
“This will give you a chance to go out and see what the average person living in the countryside has to say. I will contact you in a week to see how you have done after this coming weekend.”
Gaffke said that the NextEra and DTE projects should be included in the moratorium.
During final public comment, Paul Holz of Bad Axe said that by approving the moratorium, the board was catering to the “non-majority,” which, he said, is against wind development.
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