BAD AXE – The Huron County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday opted not to hire ABD Engineering & Design to help investigate wind turbine noise complaints.
Also, the board unanimously voted to expand its contract with the Clark Hill law firm to include a review of the county’s turbine complaint process.
Commissioner John A. Nugent brought forth a late motion to expand the contract.
Before voting with the rest of the board not to hire ABD, Nugent said he didn’t support that move because of how weather can affect short-term noise testing.
He said developers should do year-long sound studies to get a true picture of the noise a turbine causes in all conditions.
Before the vote to expand the Clark Hill contract, County Corporate Counsel Stephen Allen advised the board that changes to the complaint resolution process would not affect the process already in place for the three noise complaints currently before the county.
County Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith said data is needed from all three property owners’ locations in order to evaluate each complaint.
“There’s no way to resolve a noise complaint without data,” Smith said.
However, two of the three property owners have not agreed to permit the county, or a company to measure noise, onto their property.
Smith also encouraged the board to consider doing interviews with various acoustical experts before hiring anyone.
Commissioner John L. Bodis reminded the board that after spending two years on a subcommittee to revise the county’s wind ordinance, ABD was selected for sound testing because the company had no skin in the game.
He added that ABD had testified in court both for and against wind developers, and seemed to be the most objective choice.
Smith said there is a professor at Michigan Technological University who could possibly do a case study and do long-term testing of turbines. He also provided the names of two other sound engineering companies that might be eligible to test.
ABD would charge the county a base fee of $18,500 to do any testing. Testing the three sites would cost a total of $24,500.
But without property owner permission to test, that would leave a hole in the county’s effort to prosecute a civil infraction, Allen said. If the tests are not done on the property of the complainants, the case could easily be dismissed.
“Whatever’s going on now isn’t working,” Nugent said. “We’re not resolving any of these complaints. There’s something wrong.”
Allen noted that in the county’s complaint resolution process, it’s implied that complainants will cooperate.
The complaint resolution process also does not prevent a complainant from suing a neighbor for nuisance, Allen said.
Not to mention, he added, the entire process has not been tested because the investigation is not complete due to lack of cooperation by two of the complainants.
In addition to suing their neighbor, the complainants would also have the option of appealing the county’s decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals. He or she could then take the issue to circuit court, Allen said.
Allen suggested as result of the lack of cooperation, this could be the end of the complaint for the board of commissioners.
Smith would have to submit a report stating there is a lack of cooperation.
Bodis said in his experience as a police officer, if a victim or complainant is reluctant to cooperate, the complaint is closed.
Commissioner Steve Vaughan made the point that every time the board considers the noise complaints, more questions arise.
One complainant, Rodney McLean, has signed a permission slip to allow testing on his property.
Wruble recommended that Smith check into other sound testing options, and suggested that the Safety Committee or Legislative Committee interview the parties.
He added if there is no cooperation from the other complainants – Robert Gaffke and Dale Hass – there’s nothing more that can be done.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Gaffke urged the board to hire, or contact, acousticians of his choosing.
“I won’t agree to do a test wrong,” he said, noting there are protocols and procedures that need to be followed.
Gaffke also provided the board with handouts regarding the Shirley Wind project in Brown County, Wisconsin.
County resident Rich Swartzendruber also spoke during public comment, stating there have been other noise complaints at the planning commission level, where people cooperated, and they were resolved.
Commissioners Sami Khoury and David G. Peruski were absent Wednesday.
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