BAD AXE – Two contentious issues that were subjects of lengthy discussion Wednesday among county planners left some officials leery of legal repercussions.
At this month’s Huron County Planning Commission meeting, the first topic was the results of a sound compliance report at Big Turtle Wind Farm Phase I.
The second was to decide whether to issue questions to a wind turbine manufacturer – some feared those answers may contain trade secrets.
Big Turtle officials revealed the results of sound compliance testing at the farm of Rodney McLean, who had filed a noise complaint against Heritage Sustainable Energy with the county earlier this year.
Big Turtle was built under the county’s 2010 Wind Ordinance, and members of the county’s Planning Commission debated whether the results of the sound testing were legitimate.
Planning commission Chairman Bernie Creguer and Planner Robert Oakes agreed with Huron County Commissioner Steve Vaughan, who said the following during final public comment:
“I see a lot of stuff leading to litigation.”
Either the sound testing is, or is not, in compliance with the county ordinance, Vaughan said.
County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith had also said that if developers comply with the ordinance, the county couldn’t dictate anything beyond that.
Blake Shroll, site manager for Heritage Energy, which operates Big Turtle, reported that the noise cited in McLean’s complaint still falls within ordinance requirements.
There have been two formal complaints regarding noise from wind turbines – one from McLean, and one from Robert Gaffke of Bloomfield Township regarding Big Turtle Wind Farm Phase II.
Robert McLean, vice chairman of the planning commission, stated that additional residents have had issues with turbine noise, but do not come forward at planning commission meetings, for fear that their names may end up in the newspaper.
Planner Mary Babcock said there have been two formal complaints, and residents are welcome to go to Smith with their complaints and do not have to speak at public meetings about it.
“We have two,” Creguer said. “Stick with the facts. And the facts are we have two complaints.”
Regarding the Rodney McLean complaint, planners reviewed the report on sound compliance and ended up postponing action on it until the January planning commission meeting.
Planner Charles Bumhoffer had pointed out that only ¾ of the hourly data was available from the report due to equipment battery failure.
“This is worthless,” Bumhoffer said of the report.
Creguer stated that if the data provided meets ordinance criteria, the planners’ options are limited.
“If it meets the criteria of the ordinance, Charlie, there is a limit to what we can question,” Creguer said.
Sami Khoury, chairman of the Huron County Board of Commissioners, is the board liaison to the planning commission.
He said he agrees with Bumhoffer that the test is not complete, and added that there should be a nuisance clause in the ordinance.
The county updated its wind energy ordinance in 2015, and included more specific sound requirements.
No turbines have been built under the 2015 ordinance.
Shroll emphasized that this was a voluntary test by Heritage to address the noise complaint – not mandated by the county.
Officials also feared that seeking trade secrets from wind turbine manufacturer Vestas could get the county into legal trouble.
Planner Terry Heck had composed a list of specific questions for Vestas following the firm’s recent decision not to let the planners have access to its construction manual, citing trade secrets.
Heck had wanted to read his questions aloud during old business, but he had not sought to put the issue on the agenda. It was decided that he would read them during final planning commission comment. But some planners objected, since they had not an opportunity to review them beforehand.
Heck then conceded to having Corporate Counsel Steve Allen review the questions first, and the commission voted to allow that.
The questions will be revisited at a later meeting.
Early in the meeting, Creguer commented that the planners often stray off the agenda by discussing business that was done months or years ago.
He referred to commission bylaws when saying, “Once the majority has ruled, you support that majority whether you agree with them or not.”
Creguer discouraged planners from questioning decisions of county commissioners, who are responsible for appointing planners.
He said planners should also base decisions on facts, not personal opinions.
“We’re not supposed to have an agenda,” he said.
“This is our agenda,” Creguer added when pointing to the paper that lists the commission’s meeting agenda.
The planning commission’s next regular meeting will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in Room 305 of the county building.
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