BURNSIDE TWP. – The Burnside Township Board of Trustees plans to next month revisit proposed amendments in its zoning ordinance pertaining to wind energy developments – changes under consideration despite claims from DTE Energy officials that they are too restrictive.
The township board held its regular meeting Monday and discussed amendments to the zoning ordinance as recommended by the planning commission, which has held two public hearings on the matter since September. The board tabled any action after agreeing to tweak several aspects of the recommendations.
However, DTE Energy officials maintain the proposed amendments recommended by the planning commission “indicate a bias against wind energy development,” and are restrictive enough to exclude the 499-foot industrial machines “entirely from the township” – claims made by the company in a Nov. 6 letter sent to township planners.
On Monday, DTE Regional Manager Carla Gribbs reiterated concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting prior to the board’s discussion.
“The planning commission recommendation that you’ll be considering tonight … does not consider the exclusionary nature of the zoning ordinance,” Gribbs told the board.
She urged the board “to take the time that is necessary to reexamine the zoning lan- guage you’ve been presented with so that you can create a balanced ordinance.”
Burnside Township is one of three in north and northeast Lapeer County where DTE Energy has confirmed securing land for a “wind energy development” and it is in “the very early stages of talking to area landowners about a possible project at some point five to 10 years from now.” The other two are Burlington and North Branch townships, where officials have enacted moratoriums to allow for more time to develop up-to-date zoning ordinances pertaining to wind.
Burnside Township is closest to having an updated ordinance in place.
During Monday’s meeting, several recommended changes to the ordinance from the Burnside planning commission remained unchanged, including:
- Site plans must be prepared by a professional engineer licensed in the state of Michigan.
- Copies of all leases for the project shall be provided to the township.
- The sound pressure level generated by a wind turbine “shall not exceed 45 decibels measured at the property lines between leased and non-leased property.” This was lowered from 55 decibels. (Also, the commission struck the line that stated the “sound pressure level shall not be exceed for more than three minutes a day.”)
The company that wants to build the wind energy project” shall have a third party, approved by the township or the township’s engineer,” conduct an analysis to identify and assess potential impact of the environment. The ordinance lists examples: wetlands and other “fragile ecosystems, historical and cultural sites, and antiquities.” This was in the ordinance previously, but the commission added the section about the township approving the third party.
The wind company must pay for repairs to public roads, drains and infrastructure damaged by construction of the wind turbine project. In Tuscola County, construction of at least one wind energy project caused extensive damage to drainage tiles in farm fields.
On Monday, however, township board members discussed further amending recommendations from the planning commission.
(Because the township attorney has to redraft the proposed amendments and public notice must be published, the township board is expected to vote on adopting the updated ordinance at its next meeting on Dec. 18.).
The amendments generally agreed to by the board consisted of:
- Changes to sound measurement. Whereas the planning commission recommended measuring sound with the so-called “Leq method” (essentially an average sound level over a specific timeframe), township board members changed it to “Lmax” – a standard that basically says sound can’t exceed a set level.
- Shadow flicker. The planning commission recommended companies must provide an analysis of “all areas where shadow flicker may affect the occupants of the inhabited structures and describe measures that shall be taken to eliminate or mitigate the problems.” Further, the updated ordinance says “any shadow flicker complaint shall be addressed by the applicant and be mitigated.” The township board was in favor of taking out the word “mitigated” and focus solely on “eliminate.”
- Decommissioning. A wind energy development company must provide an estimate on tearing a wind turbine down, and restoring the land to its original state. Per changes discussed Monday, if the township doesn’t like the figure, a wind energy development company will have to cover the cost of hiring an independent company to come up with a figure. Further, the estimates will be revisited every five years to account for variables such as inflation. That’s in addition to the planning commission’s recommendation that companies must give the township a year’s notice of when wind turbines will be decommissioned. The application for special land use must include a description of the financial security that will guarantee removal of the tower.
A significant portion of Monday’s meeting was spent on setbacks, or how far wind turbines have to be from other things, like house and property lines.
Gribbs pointed out that DTE provided Burnside Township officials with information showing how the proposed zoning ordinance amendments could affect any wind energy development projects in the area.
Township attorney Tim Denney noted the assertions from DTE that proposed setback requirements could be severely restrictive might not necessarily be the case. He claimed that DTE based its assertions on the layout of a wind park in another township with different geographical characteristics than Burnside.
Under the planning commission’s recommendation, the distance between wind turbines and the property lines of adjacent non-leased properties including public rights of way shall be at least 1,640 feet, or 125 percent “of the height of the (wind turbine) including the top of the blade in its vertical position, whichever is greater.”
Further, each wind turbine shall be set back from “the nearest wall of an inhabited structure” by a distance of no less than 1,640 feet, or 125 percent “of the height of the (wind turbine) including the top of the blade in its vertical position, whichever is greater.”
On Monday, township board members agreed to a provision that would allow for 1,640 feet or 3.5 times the height of the wind turbine, whichever is less. Board members indicated a belief that this could allow wind energy companies to possibly construct more turbines within an area if they are shorter.
After the meeting Monday, Cindy Hecht, a spokesperson for DTE, provided The County Press with a prepared statement.
“It’s very important to strike a balance between community interests and private property rights,” she said. “There are zoning guidelines established by the State of Michigan as far back as 2008 to help local governments develop zoning regulations for wind energy that would protect public health, safety, and welfare without them being completely restrictive or exclusionary.”
She also said, “DTE is ready to join Burnside Township in a productive dialogue to help create a balanced ordinance.”
The Burnside Township board next meets on Dec. 18 (due to Christmas falling on the fourth Monday of the month).
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