May 10, 2018

County planners advance stricter wind rules

By Tim Rath, Argus-Press Staff Writer | May 9, 2018 |

OWOSSO – After nearly 1-1/2 years of review, the Shiawassee County Planning Commission approved changes to the county’s ordinance regulating wind turbines that left most of the 100-plus people in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting with smiles on their faces.

“It was very positive tonight … They’re glad to move it (forward),” Commissioner Dan McMaster said of the commission’s feelings. “This ordinance is more in line with what some of our townships recommended and what the citizens are saying. There is still some work to do, but I think it’s more in line with what our commissioners wanted as well.”

Commissioners approved several changes supported by those against proposed turbine developments. A previous draft of the ordinance would have been less restrictive.

Among the changes:

The county is currently under a moratorium on development of wind energy projects, which blocks companies from applying for the necessary permits to build turbines.

The ordinance will now go to the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners for final approval. However, commissioners only have until June before the moratorium expires. McMaster, who also is a county board member, said, if they cannot agree on an ordinance before the expiration of the moratorium, they are likely to extend it for a period of less than a year.

The planning commission meeting lasted two hours as 27 different people spoke during the public comment portion. Officials conducted the session in Owosso High School’s auditorium to accommodate the crowd.

Brad Pnazek, a senior development manager for Tradewind Energy – one of three companies that has pursued wind turbine developments in the county – said the new restrictions could hinder wind turbine development in Shiawassee County, but not necessarily prevent it.

“We still can. What we can do is, if the folks want it here, they can participate. We just know that the constraints are much tighter. Is it a possibility? Yes. Is there a will for it here? That’s the question we’ll find out,” Pnazek said.

In March, the planning commission conducted a meeting at Ovid-Elsie High School to review proposed changes to the ordinance that left neither side feeling like it had won. By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, however, most of the amendments made in March were changed to be more restrictive toward wind turbine companies.

Kevon Martis, an activist and former planning commission member in Lenawee County’s Riga Township, representing the citizens group Regulated Wind of Shiawassee County, said he was pleased by the commissioners’ votes and that the group would likely not seek a referendum on the subject, as had been suggested by some.

“I can’t tell what they will do, but I think in general, they are very pleased with where this ended up,” Martis said. “We feel it gives a proper balance of protecting neighboring land owners and not having their property donated to an out-of-state wind company to be used as an uncompensated nuisance and safety hazard.”

Most of those in attendance opposed the proposed developments – with some wearing T-shirts that referred to turbines as “invasive species.”

“(Wind companies) remind me of nothing more than Mr. Haney on the ‘Green Acres’ show – they want to sell us something we don’t want, we don’t need, and it costs too much. The cost is our community, being destroyed,” said Theresa Bandkau of Owosso Township.

While most in attendance were opposed to turbines, some expressed support for the idea.

Phil Hathaway, a retired Owosso community development director, said in a statement read by planning commissioner Bonnie Reno: “As a planning commission charged with authoring the details of the ordinance, I would avoid the risk of inverse condemnation of private property through overly protective standards that … effectively remove private property rights of leasers and lessees for (wind turbines’) installation.”

None of the wind energy companies has applied for special use permits or filed for site plan approvals with the county.

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