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Isabella planners recommend approval of wind ordinance revisions

A crowd on Thursday that spilled from a meeting room into a hallway at the Isabella County Building applauded when the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend that county commissioners approve revisions to the current wind energy zoning ordinance.

Planners made a few revisions to the revisions – reducing the noise maximum from 55 to 50 decibels, changing the height measurement of turbines to the tip of the blade instead of the hub, and the measurement of the noise from the property lines of non-participating land owners rather than the nearest occupied structure.

Other amendments to the ordinance include shadow flickers at any occupied buildings to occur no more than 30 hours a year and a decommissioning plan for the end of the project life.

There is no maximum height ordinance because that is dictated by the state and the Federal Aviation Administration, officials said.

Many residents spoke about the proposed wind energy project in the feasibility stages by Apex Clean Energy.

Most of the residents commenting support a clean energy project in the county, but many also expressed concern about the noise, prompting planners to reduce the decibel maximum before approving the recommendation to the county commission.

Two men in the audience who were most opposed to wind turbines were not residents of Isabella County. Kevon Martis, chairman of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, spoke of noise problems with wind farms in other parts of Michigan.

Although Martis signed his name before speaking and listed an address, he refused to answer when an audience member asked where he resides.

Norm Stephens of Elmer Township in Sanillac County spoke of the municipality being sued over maximum decibel levels and said residents rejected wind energy there in a 1,900 to 1,100 vote.

Others in the audience welcomed having clean energy, although Apex has not yet applied for any permits.

Tracy House, who was part of a steering committee of residents looking into wind energy, said he wanted to be in the forefront of clean energy after being experienced in oil and gas leasing.

He and others on the committee went to wind farms and asked questions, including what communities would do differently.

The group also hired an attorney.

County Commissioner Jim Moreno told planners he was excited about wind power when it came to Gratiot County and that Isabella was not at that time in the position to do the same because of inefficiency.

Now, towers are taller and are exposed to more wind, he said.

Noting that every system has drawbacks, Moreno said technological advances will minimize them.

He also said he wants his granddaughter to be able to breathe, not be too hot because of global warming and to not have asthma from pollution.

Dick Brooks of Wise Township was concerned about how loud 55 decibels is, and Community Development Director Tim Nieporte said he was told it is equal to a window air conditioner.

Nicholas Gauthier, who worked in the wind turbine industry and since earned a PhD in audiology, warned that turbine noise creates a hazard to roughly 10 percent of the population and that 55 decibels is too high, according to research.

Gauthier volunteered to answer any questions planners and residents might have about noise levels and how they affect people.

Some residents expressed concern about wildlife, the noise disturbing sleep, property values near turbines decreasing and height of the turbines, while others, who operate farms, said they hear louder noises every day.

Robert Pasch, who operates a dairy farm in Nottawa Township with his son and brother, was on the steering committee.

Pasch said he wasn’t pro-wind until he researched the subject.

Any future turbines in Isabella County will be built on land zoned for agriculture and that noises are common.

He also said he has already entered into a lease agreement with Apex.

Planning Commissioner Jim Horton, the county commission representative, said clean energy is important but it must be done correctly and with much thought.

Apex indicated in handout materials that the anticipated start date of commercial operation of the wind energy project is 2020, providing site plans and other requirements are met and approved.