Even though Tuscola County Commissioners decided to say “no to financing more legal action” regarding a wind farm lawsuit during a special board meeting Wednesday, that may not be the final word.
The Tuscola County Airport Zoning Board of Appeals, will conduct a special meeting noon today at the Purdy Building, 125 W. Lincoln St., Caro.
The meeting will include a closed session to discuss a written legal memorandum from their attorney, according to the meeting notice posted by Tuscola County Clerk Jodi Fetting.
During the commissioners’ four hour meeting Wednesday that was attended by over 100 people, testimony was given for an against the Pegasus Wind Energy project by NextEra Energy Resources LLC in Juniata Township.
It was reiterated several times how the height of the turbines could be a hazard to those using the Tuscola Area Airport that is outside of Caro.
One of the key points is the airport is used by recreational pilots and not professionals.
During the meeting, commissioners met in closed session for about two hours as they grappled with whether or not to fund an appeal of Tuscola Circuit Judge Amy Grace Gierhart’s decision to overturned the AZBA’s July decision to deny variance applications for 33 wind turbines.
Commissioner Dan Grimshaw made the motion not to fund the appeal.
Commission Chair Thom Bardwell was the lone vote to continue to fund legal action.
Bardwell pointed out that he was the only commissioner who was on the board back when the airport zoning regulations were written, which were long before wind development was considered in the county.
“I’m the only one who was a commissioner back in January 2011 when the airport zoning ordinance was created, and when the appeals board was created. I have the history background on all of this,” stated Bardwell. “I feel the ordinances and appeals board should be supported. I think the court may not have had background on all of the issues. I feel the issue should be given a second (legal) look by someone outside of the county.”
“And, I guess the commissioners lost the desire to fight NextEra.”
He also noted that he could understand the position of the other commissioners.
“It is estimated that it would cost at least $10,000 to $15,000 to continue the issue in U.S. District Court,” he said noting even if the AZBA did win at that level, it might not be the end.
“I can see NextEra taking it to the Supreme Court. They have deep, financial pockets and a lot of lawyers. At each meeting they bring three to four lawyers with them.”
And, during the meeting a letter noted that a private funding source would be willing to provide financial assistance to continue the legal fight.
The area of contentions are wind turbine placement near the Tuscola Area Airport, alleged violations of construction procedures by NextEra, and some township’s residents opposition to wind development.
Development of the Pegasus wind farm started in 2017. Since then, the township, the zoning board of appeals and NextEra have been at odds and in and out of court over the last few years on various issues related to the wind farm.
“As soon as Judge Gierhart made her decision back in late November, work on getting ready to build the turbines surged forward,” he said. “While we were deciding if we were going to appeal or not, NextEra filed a motion with Gierhart to issue permits to start building.”
On the issue of money that Bardwell talked about, earlier this month NextEra offered the county $10 million to settle the matter out of court, which the commissioners declined.
Even though the terms of the company’s offer were confidential, the offer came to light.
“I don’t see any other action coming from the commissioners at this point. The zoning board can do an appeal on their own,” Bardwell said noting they may have private financial support to do so.
Bardwell also expressed concerns about liability, the airport and future development in the county.
“Back when the state was going to build a new and bigger Caro Center hospital, a hotel chain and conference center was looking at coming to the area, but as soon as the governor put a pause on development of the new hospital, the hotel and conference center interest disappeared,” Bardwell said pointing how the issue has divided Juniata Township.
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