BENTON TWP. – An Eaton County judge has dismissed a Minnesota-based solar and wind energy company’s lawsuit claiming an interim zoning ordinance put in place by Benton Township to block a proposed 850-acre solar array is not valid.
The ruling, issued late last month and signed by Circuit Court Judge John Maurer this week, also denied a request from Sandstone Creek Solar, LLC, a subsidiary of Geronimo Energy, for a preliminary injunction on the interim zoning ordinance, enacted last November.
Maurer did order township officials to produce records requested by the company under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, adding in his ruling that the township admitted it violated FOIA law.
Sandstone Creek Solar has until March 2 to appeal Maurer’s decision with the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Lindsay Smith, a spokeswoman for Geronimo Energy, would not say whether the company plans to file an appeal.
“As a farmer-friendly organization, Geronimo Energy will always defend our landowners’ rights,” Smith said in an email to the State Journal. “Benton Township’s interim zoning ordinance drastically restricts what farmers and families can do on their own private land.”
Gary Walters, a township resident who joined the lawsuit with Sandstone Creek after it was filed, said the company intends to appeal the ruling.
Appeal ‘likely,’ says official
Maurer’s ruling came two months after Sandstone Creek filed its lawsuit, the first since Eaton County’s Board of Commissioners passed an amendment to the county’s land development code in March.
It allows for solar operations on about 900 acres of industrial land and more than 281,000 acres of land zoned as limited agricultural, which accounts for all but about 10,000 acres of land under the county’s jurisdiction. Cities, villages, and the charter townships of Delta, Oneida and Windsor are not under county jurisdiction.
Benton Township fell under the county’s ordinances prior to enacting its own interim zoning ordinance.
Walters, who is under contract to sell 126 acres off Doane Highway to the solar company, said Monday he hopes Maurer’s ruling doesn’t halt the solar development.
Geronimo plans to appeal it, he said.
The move wouldn’t surprise Benton Township Supervisor Roger Wickerham. Maurer’s ruling came as a relief, he said, but an appeal by Sandstone Creek is likely.
“I just assume that they might,” he said. “They have deep pockets, although I don’t know on what grounds they would appeal it.”
Kelley Coburn-Harris, president of Eaton County Coalition for Solar Regulation, a grassroots group that opposes Sandstone Creek’s proposed project, and supports Benton Township’s efforts to establish its own zoning ordinance, said she was thrilled with the recent ruling.
“I thought it was the right decision,” she said.
Still, Coburn-Harris said Sandstone Creek won’t just abandon its plans to develop a solar array in rural Eaton County.
“I believe that they will continue to try to finish the project,” she said.
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