MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – A proposed wind farm project at the border of Muskegon and Kent counties continues to be the subject of sharp division between residents, their elected officials and the project’s developer.
Two lawsuits have been filed against Casnovia Township since it approved a special use permit for the wind farm in April. One lawsuit was filed by residents opposed to the project, and the other by the project’s developer, American Electric Power.
Meanwhile, three members of the Casnovia Township Board of Trustees are now facing recall attempts based on their votes to approve the permit.
The controversy continues a year’s worth of consternation over the wind farm project.
AEP wants to build 31 wind turbines across portions of Casnovia Township in Muskegon County and Tyrone Township in Kent County. The developers hoped the electricity-generating project, dubbed the Kenowa Ridge Wind Farm Project, could be built by 2020.
AEP took control of the project after it bought Sempra Energy’s wind turbine assets in 2019. Sempra Renewables proposed the project in 2018.
AEP claims requirements unreasonable
In its lawsuit filed in Muskegon County Circuit Court, AEP states that the township board included 32 “capricious and arbitrary” conditions on the permit that needed to be addressed before final site approval could be granted.
The company alleges that several of those stipulations would “totally prohibit” AEP from building the project, amounting to $200 million in lost revenue for AEP.
Once concern is the short shelf life of the special use permit, which is valid only for six months. Sempra had “repeatedly” asked Casnovia Township for a three-year permit that they claimed was an acceptable period to get the project up and running, according to the lawsuit.
The board did not fulfill that request, the complaint reads.
Another stipulation required AEP to install ice mitigation systems on each turbine. The systems would stop the turbines whenever ice is detected to prevent large shards from being hurled toward nearby residences.
Lastly, AEP claims that the township’s setback requirements are unreasonable. The township had stated that it wanted wind turbines at least 1,300 feet away from homes and dwellings, and 1,000 feet away from any property line to protect against ice and blade throw, according to the permit.
The township board also worried about blade “delamination,” or the breakdown of the laminated coating of wind turbine blades.
Residents appeal Casnovia’s decision
The second lawsuit against Casnovia Township, also filed in Muskegon County Circuit Court, aims to undo the board’s April 23 decision to grant the special use permit to AEP, then Sempra, for the proposed wind farm.
The filers, Jonathan and Jennifer Armstrong, Ron Fritz and P.D. Black Enterprises Inc., live or are located within 300 feet of the proposed wind turbine site.
Each complainant said ongoing health issues could be negatively impacted or exacerbated if the wind farm is erected. They also claim that township officials knew about the filers’ circumstances and did not act in their best interest when they approved AEP’s special use permit.
According to the lawsuit, Jennifer Armstrong has a traumatic brain injury and suffers seizures when exposed to “shadow flicker” created by wind turbines. Also, excessive noise exacerbates her condition.
Fritz is paralyzed from chest down due to traumatic injury and has debilitating neuropathic pain exacerbated by changes in pressure and/or lack of sleep. Noise from the wind turbines would exacerbate his health issues, the complaint reads.
The wind farm would “impair the assets” of P.D. Black Enterprises, located near the wind farm, causing “substantial economic harm” to plan participants. The plan is described as an “ERISA-regulated employee welfare plan,” according to the lawsuit.
In the complainants’ view, the board failed to find adequate evidence that the wind farm complied with the township’s zoning ordinance.
The lawsuit states that the project was required to “be designed, constructed, operated and maintained so as to be harmonious and appropriate in appearance with the existing or intended character of the general vicinity and that such a use will not change the essential character of the area.”
Casnovia trustees face recall
Several residents and township officials were outspoken in their opposition to the project, which caused controversy over the last year. Some said it would produce excessive noise and could create hazards for local wildlife. Others worried, as Jennifer Armstrong has, about “shadow flicker” from turbine blades.
That consternation now endangers the political futures of three township trustees.
On April 23, township Clerk Jennie Powell, Treasurer Gayle Brock and Trustee Dan Winell voted in favor of the permit, while township Supervisor Kellie Ashbaugh and Trustee Jason Jorgensen voted against it.
On June 4, resident Daniel Kosheba filed recall petitions against Powell, Brock and Winnell.
Kosheba’s petitions claim the trio “ignored the legal advice and counsel of the Casnovia Township attorney and voted to unlawfully approve” the special land use permit before AEP had met all the “specified and designated conditions” of the township’s zoning ordinance.
Each petition was approved by the Muskegon County Election Commission on June 17. The Election Commission consists of county Clerk Nancy Waters, Family Division Judge Gregory Pittman and Treasurer Tony Moulatsiotis.
Ten days later, on June 27, Powell, Brock and Winnell all filed appeals in circuit court to have the petitions thrown out. Those appeals are pending.
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