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Sherwood continues to struggle with wind turbine zoning

SHERWOOD TOWNSHIP – After four lengthy sessions, the Sherwood Township Planning Commission can only agree on a few rules for regulating commercial wind turbines.

The board,Tuesday, voted to require any wind turbine be a minimum of one mile from any of the township’s seven lake shorelines and the banks of the St. Joseph and Nottowa Rivers.

The board also agreed that all setbacks will be measured, not from the base of a turbine tower but from the end of a turbine blade closest to the line.

By two 3-3 split votes, it could not agree on a maximum height of 500 or 300 feet. No other height received a seconded motion.

Commissioner and Township Trustee Fred Haack said it needed to be lower than 500 feet. As a pilot he knows that is the height used to fly when there are limits because of weather.

Chairman Don Esch said the Commission was there “to determine what, if any regulations, should be allowed for wind turbines.”

He suggested that, what ever the decision, it will not be popular as was the 1998 decision to institute zoning in the small rural and lakeside township.

Commissioner John Letendre had drafted an eight page proposal but got no support for it. The group had looked at more than a dozen already existing township ordinances from around the state.

The zoning ordinance was requested after DTE proposed a commercial wind farm on 60,000 acres in Sherwood, Matteson, western Union, and the northwest section of Batavia Townships.

As of July, about 180 people have signed leases on over 31,000 acres, company officials said.

Chairman Esch pointed out that the Commission was to come up with “regulations to allow reasonable use of the land” or face a losing court challenge.

He said it was the Commissions responsibility “to come up with a proposal to the township board, then let them pick it apart and send it back.”

A question was raised about how many township board members could vote on an ordinance. When it was suggested, two members of the trustees had signed leases.

Esch said there is a conflict of interest provision in state law.

“They are not even suppose to join in the discussion,” drawing applause from a majority of the over 50 in attendance.

Letendre said, “I don’t think that is correct.”

It is an issue expected to be challenged by both sides of the controversial fight. As a farm owner, Letendre said he had not signed a lease.

“Then I don’t see that you have an interest (and a conflict),” Esch told Letendre.

The Commission discussed requiring set backs of 2,640 feet – half a mile – from roads, property lines, utility lines, nonparticipating properties, and residences. Others supported 1,320 feet, a quarter mile.

The Commission did not want turbines to come close to those who did not sign leases – nonparticipants. Letendre pointed out that DTE has now signed up people with plots smaller than the 20 acres the Company is considering for possible sites of the 50 to 70 turbines.

He also noted that if there was a half mile set back, then even an 80 acre parcel could not be used if all surrounding owners were not participants.

Esch said he did not want to consider that large a set back.

“Our job is provide reasonable use of the land,” he said.

“If we don’t approve something, (DTE) will just move in,” Commissioner Steve Baker said. “You can’t just say grow crops. People have a right to use their property.”

Pam Reed, spokesperson for the Concerned Citizens “Grow Crops” group, told the commission its decisions “can’t be arbitrary and must be based on research and science. A company like DTE can do whatever they want unless it is specified in zoning. Unless it is specified in zoning it’s a free for all.”

The Sherwood Planning commission will try again August 14.