After more than two years of sometimes heated debate and discussion the Seville Township board has approved a wind ordinance that will allow turbines to be constructed in the township.
However, some think the new rules will be too restrictive to attract any interest from a utility wanting to build a wind farm
The ordinance passed 3-2, with Supervisor Tish Mallory, Clerk Terresa Frisbie and Treasurer Ashlee Gibson voting in favor, while trustees Doug Brecht and Marlin Brush voted no.
“There were a couple of slight changes but the ordinance passed as it was (initially) written,” Mallory said.
On the advice of their attorney township officials had sent a copy of the proposed ordinance to the Gratiot County planning commission last month to get its opinion on the matter.
“They rejected our ordinance because they wanted it to mirror the county ordinance,” Mallory said. “But the county ordinance is 10 years old and they have never made any adjustments.”
Because the township has its own zoning regulations it did not have to abide by the county’s opinion, she added.
The biggest issue appears to be that turbines cannot be constructed any closer than 1,640 feet from a nonparticipating landowner.
“We feel it’s just too restrictive to be functional,” longtime township resident and former zoning official Doug Duffy said. “It’s not going to do us any good.”
As a comparison, the county’s ordinance requires a setback to be one-and-a-half times the height of the turbine, which could be between 400 and 600 feet.
Duffy spearheaded a petition drive last year that collected more than 160 signatures of residents who were in favor of turbines and wanted a less restrictive ordinance.
“We showed the (board) there are people who want turbines,” Duffy said. “It’s not like there is just a handful of us. We feel like we got no respect (from township officials). We’re all taxpayers and we should be heard.
“But it’s been an uphill battle and a raw deal the whole way. It rediculous.”
However, according to Mallory the board “is not trying to be exclusionary.”
“We are trying to respect the safety, wellbeing and health of all our residents,” she explained. “We have to represent everybody. What about the person who has just a half-acre or a little slice of land?”
Mallory also noted the ordinance includes a “waiver” that would allow property owners to waive the setback requirement if a nonparticipating neighbor agreed.
Because of the “hoops we have to jump through” that will have little impact, Duffy claims.
In addition, the ordinance requires utilities to pay $400,000 for each turbine that is “decommissioned” or taken out of service. That’s more than twice the amount of the county’s ordinance.
“No one is going to agree to that,” Duffy said.
His next step is to start another petition drive, this one to get the issue placed on the ballot.
“The Zoning Enabling Act allows us to call for a referendum,” Duffy said.
Once the ordinance is published he will have seven days to notify the township clerk of his intentions than 30 days to collect the signatures.
The number of signatures required is 15 percent of the total votes cast in the township during the most recent gubernatorial election.
Duffy said that would likely mean gathering more than 100 signatures of registered voters.
“We did it before without really trying,” he added.
If enough valid signatures are obtained to get the referendum on the ballot the wind ordinance would not go into effect until after the election, which would likely be the August primary.
The vote would be to reject the ordinance approved by the township board. If approved that would require any further discussion on a wind ordinance to start over again from scratch.
By next year, nine of the county’s 16 townships will have wind farms that will include more than 400 turbines.
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