CORUNNA – Bonnie Ott, the chairwoman of the Shiawassee County Planning Commission, attended the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners meeting Wednesday in response to an invitation she wasn’t expecting and wasn’t happy about.
During a board of commissioners session Monday, Commissioner Michael Bruff had expressed disappointment with something Ott had said in May: She and planning commission member Robert Ebmeyer told the board they had voted in favor of revised, stricter rules for wind turbine projects, but regretted it.
Ott said they were bullied by wind turbine opponents. They urged commissioners to reject the revised rules, despite the planning commission’s unanimous recommendation.
Bruff said the pair’s comments had weighed on his mind, even though in June the board unanimously adopted the revised rules, bringing the matter to a close. He said it upset him that the head of the planning commission had apparently voted against her principles because of “bullying.” He said he wondered if Ott was the kind of public official who could be “bribed and coerced.
“To me, it’s incredibly important,” Bruff said Monday. “To me, she was an ineffective chairwoman, and we could remove her from her position as the chair of the board.”
He suggested inviting Ott and Ebmeyer to Wednesday’s board meeting so commissioners could ask them questions. The pair accepted the invitation.
Ott, speaking from her seat, said Bruff was mistaken about her frame of mind when she addressed the board in May, and that she was speaking only for herself.
“My vote was not from feeling bullied. I said that as a board, we were very harassed by the public,” Ott said. “Now I’m on public display, like an inquisition. It’s very dangerous when you make people feel they wouldn’t want to be on the board.”
Ott said the planning commission had come up with a “good, solid” revised wind turbine ordinance and the board of commissioners “threw it at us and told us to fix it.
“The people of Shiawassee County deserve better,” Ott said. “The leaseholders (residents who signed contracts with a wind turbine company) expected revenues, and now it’s probably a done deal. It’s over.”
She accused Commissioner Dan McMaster of telling the planning commission their vote on the revised rules didn’t matter because the board of commissioners had already decided to make 450 feet the maximum height for wind turbines.
McMaster responded that he “threw out” 450 feet because it was the average allowable height requested by the 14 townships in Shiawassee County that leave local zoning decisions up to the county.
Ebmeyer said the townships didn’t perform the same level of research as the planning commission and had a “knee-jerk reaction to height.” He said if the rule had allowed 600-foot-tall wind turbines, then instead of 30 turbines the company would have only installed 15.
“Shiawassee County is moving backward, as far as I can see,” Ebmeyer said.
Just before Ott and Ebmeyer addressed the board, Bruff said he didn’t have a problem with Ott saying she felt bullied or that she wished she could change her vote.
“The issue is, as the chair of the planning commission, she approached us as though we should reject a 7-0 vote because she felt bullied,” Bruff said. “Was she speaking for the planning commission or was she speaking for herself? It appeared she was speaking for the planning commission. I feel as chair of the planning commission, she was overstepping her bounds.”
Bruff said it wasn’t his aim to have Ott removed from the planning commission. He said he doesn’t “like” wind turbines but he “didn’t personally win anything” from the stricter rules that were adopted.
After the exchange, outside of the meeting room, Ott said in response to a question that she didn’t plan to resign from the planning commission because she feels she has a lot to offer the panel.
She indicated that after hearing what Bruff had said about her Monday, she had consulted with an attorney. She said the board had impugned her good name and “I really couldn’t defend it.”
In June, the Shiawassee County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved revised rules after 18 months of work by planning commission members, including two public hearings. A representative of a wind company said at the time that the new rules were so strict they would effectively keep wind turbines out of Shiawassee County.
The revised rules include the following:
n The acceptable noise level from a turbine is 45 decibels, as measured from a “non-participating” property line – meaning property for which the owner has not signed an agreement with a wind energy company. The old ordinance allowed 55 decibels.
n A wind turbine has to be set back 350 percent of its height from the property line of a non-participating owner. The former setback was 150 percent of the tower’s height. An earlier draft of the new ordinance called for a 325-percent setback.
n Turbines have to be designed, placed and operated in a way that does not produce “shadow flicker” on a non-participating parcel of land. The earlier draft of the ordinance allowed for up to 20 hours of shadow flicker per year. The former rule didn’t address shadow flicker.
n A wind turbine can be no taller than 450 feet. The earlier draft of the ordinance allowed for 500-foot-tall turbines. The old ordinance allowed for 600-foot turbines.