BAD AXE – The county’s future in terms of development and land use is visible in the first draft of the Huron County Master Plan.
County officials are in the process of reviewing the 180-page plan to make changes before the final draft is voted on for approval by both the Huron County Planning Commission and the Huron County Board of Commissioners.
The plan includes a view of Huron’s renewable energy future. Regarding renewable energy, the plan states:
• Wind energy development is one of the main challenges facing Huron County.
• In terms of wind energy development, Huron County is evenly split on this issue.
• There is support for the development of solar in Huron County, but only when sited in appropriate areas.
• Regarding land use along the shoreline, survey respondents would like to see those public parks improved and updated, including the preservation of scenic vistas and open space.
Wind energy facilities
Huron county has 472 operational wind turbines.
“On one hand, the zoning map defines where wind energy facilities can be located in Huron County by the placement of the various existing overlays, which can be amended to add more overlays,” the plan states. “On the other hand, each wind energy facility has a useful life, and if such facilities are not repowered at the end of their useful life, they will need to be decommissioned, and once decommissioning is completed, the Huron County zoning map can be amended to remove any associated overlays.”
Any wind energy facility that is repowered “would have to comply with all current zoning ordinance requirements,” according to the plan.
So no matter what ordinance the wind park was built under, the most updated version of the wind ordinance would apply to repowering.
The plan also addresses decommissioning, or removal of wind turbines.
“Decommissioning never precedes repowering,” the plan states. “A triggering event, as described in the facility’s approved decommissioning plan, necessitates the removal of the wind energy facility. Such a triggering event might be the time when a portion of the facility ceases to generate electric power for a specified period, or it might be a timeframe specified within the power purchase agreement with the utility. Decommissioning does not involve the issuance of any new permits for the operation of a wind energy facility.”
The action plan for wind energy includes revamping the wind ordinance to reflect options for repowering. New permits will need to be obtained for a turbine to be repowered.
The action plan also includes the following:
• Review individual decommissioning agreements
• For each individual wind energy facility, outline a schedule for anticipated decommissioning or repowering
• One year prior to the anticipated end of useful life, engage the operator in a discussion of options for repowering or for decommissioning
Solar energy development
Regarding solar, the plan makes it clear that commercial solar development on prime farmland enrolled in PA 116 will not be acceptable.
“Installation of commercial solar energy facilities is a serious threat to the viability of the county’s agricultural economy as it has the potential to remove large-scale swathes of productive agricultural land from the PA 116 program,” the plan states. “It is the goal of Huron County to ensure that lands already enrolled in the PA 116 program remain in the program while directing the development of commercial solar energy facilities to marginal lands.”
While the planners spent considerable time debating setbacks for solar development at recent meetings, the plan does not get specific about setbacks.
According to the plan: “When developing zoning ordinance provisions, the Planning Commission should consider appropriate setbacks for the following:”
• Non-participating property lines
• Homes on non-participating parcels
• Participating property lines
• Homes on participating parcels
• Cities and villages
• Townships that are not county-zoned
• State land
• Wind turbines
• Lake Huron shoreline
About Huron County
The plan includes a lot of background and statistics about Huron County, including some regarding its declining and aging population.
With 32,525 residents as of 2014, the county has 5 percent less population today than it did in 1990, and 8 percent less than in 2010.
Huron County’s poverty rate in 2014 was 15.5 percent, compared to 17.3 percent in Michigan and 14.1 percent nationwide.
There are also numerous pages of maps that show soil types, natural/water features, land enrolled in farmland preservation, and future land use.
Agricultural is the top land use in the county, at 84 percent.
“Of the 452,000 acres of agricultural land in Huron County, 75 percent is enrolled in the Farmland and Open Space Preservation Program, commonly known as the PA 116 Program,” the plan states.
Results of a 2016 survey of county residents are also included.
Key points include a good quality of life, a declining economy and three major challenges facing Huron County today: crime and drug abuse, wind energy development, and unemployment.
“Overall, 35 percent of respondents believe quality of life in Huron County is the best or one of the best in the Thumb, and 33 percent of respondents believe the quality of life in Huron County is generally good. And 80 percent of respondents state that they still see themselves in the Thumb five years from now.”
Survey respondents agreed that education options, including trade schools, are important to the county’s future.
The agricultural way of life was highly valued by survey respondents, and 63 percent said the county needs more commercial service in existing cities and villages. Forty percent of respondents said development should be focused on the tourism industry.
“The county is interested in what alternative energy operations residents would welcome in the county,” according to the plan.
73 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that solar energy would be welcome. Methane gas capture and wind energy were the least popular.
“The most common themes people like best about Huron county include: The rural nature of the county, the small-town feel, the friendly community, the cost of living, the recreation opportunities and natural beauty, and the peace and quiet of the countryside,” according to the survey.
“The most common themes people would do to improve Huron county include: Create good jobs, promote economic growth, support small businesses, work with universities and other skilled trades to provide education options to the youth, provide more recreation choices, particularly regional trails, work with medical professionals to address drug problems, and capitalize on the tourist industry,” according to survey results.
Goals outlined for economic development include:
• Maintain a strong local and regional economic base and to provide jobs for all residents of Huron County.
• Support water system improvements in the communities of Bad Axe, Port Austin, Pigeon and Harbor Beach.
• Support improvements to community sewer systems.
Goals for tourism include:
• Provide reasonable access for residents to all parks, water, and recreational facilities and promote a variety of tourism options for those residing in and out of Huron County.
• Protect the viewshed afforded by the Lake Huron shoreline.
Goals for Agriculture:
• Promote agriculture and to encourage expansion into new markets.
• Promote GAAMPs – generally accepted agricultural and management practices as set forth from the Michigan Right to Farm Act (PA 93 of 1981) – compliance throughout Huron County.
Another plan goal is to provide quality and affordable housing for county residents.
Future land use
Categories for future land use include: agricultural, residential, business industrial, state land, county parks, airport, ITC Thumb Loop and water lines.
A written summary and maps are provided for some categories, as well as a map for each county-zoned township.
Most business and industrial expansion is aimed at such areas already in existence, including villages, cities and state highway corridors.
The plan addresses the county’s 16 townships under county zoning. They are: Bingham, Bloomfield, Brookfield, Dwight, Fairhaven, Gore, Grant, Hume, Lincoln, McKinley, Rubicon, Sebewaing, Sheridan, Sherman, Sigel and Winsor townships.
Although Sherman and Lincoln townships have voted to become self-zoned, they remain under the county’s jurisdiction until they adopt zoning ordinaces.
The plan also describes its place in mapping the future:
“The master plan is policy and should therefore be used as a guide to the future use of and and overall development in the (county),” the plan states. “While the Master Plan outlines a community’s vision for the future, the zoning ordinance contains the rules that govern the path to that vision.”
In the event either the zoning ordinance or a decision of the planning commission is challenged in court, the master plan would “provide the planning rationale to support land use regulation.”
“Carrying out the Master Plan is a task which is led by county officials and the planning commission, but is also dependent upon every responsible citizen of the County,” the plan states “By working together, Huron County will continue to be a desirable, attractive, convenient, and welcoming community.”
County officials will have until Sept. 7 to submit edits, after which the final plan will be drafted. Hopes are that the final adoption will take place before the end of the year.
The master plan draft can be viewed or downloaded at http://bit.ly/huroncountymasterplan.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding