ROGERS CITY – Voters in some portions of Presque Isle County will get to decide on Aug. 6 whether the county should keep its controversial ordinance that deals with wind turbines and solar energy.
The ordinance adopted by the county Board of Commissioners in October established setbacks and height restrictions for industrial wind turbines, in addition to requirements pertaining to visual, lighting and power lines, that were not addressed in the previous ordinance.
However, Moltke Township residents Mike and Stefani Schulte believe the ordinance didn’t offer enough protections for property owners and circulated a petition that garnered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.
County officials previously believed the board would have to approve the ballot language for a referendum to appear on the ballot. County Clerk Ann Marie Main said she recently learned that, because it was a referendum petition filed, it appears on the ballot without further action from the board. The ballot language had been an action item on the board’s most recent meeting, but it was removed.
“It will just appear on the August ballot for only the townships in which the county has ordinances over,” Main said, adding voters who will be excluded from voting are those living in Presque Isle, Krakow and Allis townships, as well as those who live in Rogers City, Onaway, Posen and Millersburg. Those governments have their own zoning ordinances.
The referendum asks voters whether they approve of the zoning ordinance that was approved by the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners on Oct. 10, 2018. The zoning ordinance allows “utility scale industrial wind turbines and solar energy facilities to be constructed in the Agricultural Resource District, Forest Recreation District, Manufacturing District and Extractive Industry Districts within Presque Isle County with a special use permit,” according to the ballot language drafted by Joshua Nolan, the attorney representing the Schultes.
Voting “yes”on the proposal would support the zoning ordinance approved by county commissioners and keep the existing ordinance in the books. Voting “no” would force the county to reconsider its ordinance.
County Building and Zoning Official Mike Libby previously told The News that, if voters decide they do not like the county’s ordinance, the county would continue to operate under the original ordinance, which included far fewer specifications for turbines to follow. He said the county would also form a subcommittee to write a new ordinance to regulate wind and solar energy.
While some county residents can vote for or against the proposal, the proposal will not stop wind turbines from being constructed, nor from operating in parts of the county that operate under the county’s zoning ordinances.
The Schultes have previously voiced concern about how wind turbines on neighboring properties would impact a portion of their property where they graze cattle.
Stefani Schulte said via email the issue with the ordinance has always been about “a total lack of regard for safety measures even set forth in the turbine manufacturers’ own safety manual.” Her primary concerns are related to the ordinance’s setbacks from property lines and decibel levels.
The Schultes have since relocated to Marshall.
“How we feel about all of this, and the fact that it is finally going to come to a vote, is that we should have never had to go through this,” Stefani Schulte said in the email. “If the original board of commissioners had upheld their commitment to do what’s right on behalf of the citizens of Presque Isle County and behaved with integrity and truth and common sense, personal integrity and basic knowledge of the facts would have prevailed.”
If the ordinance is voted down, Schulte said it would mean residents could demand a new ordinance that takes into account safety, such as larger setbacks, setting decibel levels that are consistent with World Health Organization recommendations, respecting private property owners and their rights, as well as protecting wildlife and their habitat.
So far, the referendum will be the only item on the ballot in Presque Isle County in August. Main previously told The News she anticipates the election will cost the county more than $10,000, with money coming from the county’s general fund. She also said the county will have to pay for the production of all the ballots and the townships will have to pay for the election workers, like they always do.
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