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Douglass Township to hold March 24 public hearing on repealing wind ordinance

DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP – The same week Apex Clean Energy hosted a community meeting touting the benefits of wind turbine energy, a local township began the process of repealing its own controversial wind ordinance.

The Douglass Township Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday evening to host a March 24 public hearing on the topic of repealing its recently approved wind ordinance. After that public hearing, the Planning Commission will vote on whether to recommend the township board repeal the ordinance. If the township board votes to repeal, it would render moot a planned voter referendum on the ordinance and township officials could instead begin working on a new ordinance addressing wind turbine concerns.

More than 80 people virtually attended Wednesday’s special Planning Commission meeting, the tone of which was noticeably more respectful and pleasant between township officials and audience members than meetings held earlier this year. Planning Commission Chairman Jack Jeppesen thanked everyone for attending via Zoom and called it “a constructive meeting.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, it was also announced that Doug Poulsen had resigned from both the Planning Commission as secretary and from the township board as a trustee. The Planning Commission appointed Cindy Shick as the new secretary and appointed Rick Baldwin as vice chairman (a position which previously didn’t exist). Planning Commissioners Tim Snyder and Todd Wells were also present at Wednesday’s meeting, while Kevin Rush was absent.

REPEAL PROCESS

Township attorney Ron Redick of Mika Meyers explained the township has several options regarding the wind ordinance in question, which was approved by the Planning Commission in October 2020 and by the township board in November 2020. Redick clarified that once the notice of intent and voter signatures were filed to seek a voter referendum, the new amendment was suspended by the referendum process, meaning that the township’s wind ordinance from 2017 is the ordinance currently in effect.

Redick said if the township wants to proceed with its newest wind ordinance (ordinance 150), then it will go to a voter referendum later this year, but if the township decides to repeal the ordinance, the referendum would be unnecessary.

“Is it possible to repeal and replace with another ordinance at the same time?” Shick asked.

“Yes,” Redick responded, but he cautioned that any new ordinance can be petitioned for a voter referendum as well and he recommended that the township first deal with repealing ordinance 150 before creating a new ordinance to replace it.

“It’s not like there’s a vacuum,” said Redick, noting that the ordinance from 2017 will remain in effect for now. “I think it would be best to move a little slower.”

The Planning Commission unanimously voted to hold a public hearing on March 24 on the topic of repealing ordinance 150. Meanwhile, a separate wind energy moratorium will remain in effect as approved by the township board earlier this month until it expires in August.

REPLACEMENT PROCESS

Township officials then turned their attention toward the process of creating a new ordinance to replace ordinance 150. Shick noted that she was asked by Douglass Township Supervisor Terry Anderson to begin working on a new ordinance for the township’s consideration.

“I have an ordinance I believe will allow for a safer and more responsive wind energy process in our township and I would like to put it out there to look at,” Shick said. “It’s not an anti-wind ordinance and it’s not necessarily a pro-wind ordinance.”

Jeppesen suggested creating a committee comprised of township officials and both pro-wind and anti-wind people to develop the new ordinance.

“Using the phrases pro-wind and anti-wind, I do believe there is a group of us that are after safer, responsible wind,” Shick clarified. “I do know there are some people who are like ‘never ever wind.’”

“I think it should be brought to the Planning Commission in an open meeting and let the board talk about it and hash it out instead of having two groups of people going out and digging up information,” opined Douglass Township Zoning Administrator David Kelsey (he is also ZA for Belvidere, Cato, Home, Maple Valley and Winfield townships).

Shick said her proposed ordinance would limit turbine height to 330 feet and would also limit sound, which prompted Kelsey to say that he hopes the ordinance isn’t too restrictive against wind turbine development.

“There was a lot of public outcry,” Shick responded regarding the township’s most recent wind ordinance. “There was a call for a safer, more responsible ordinance. There’s two areas of safety and protection. One area is for the people – the residents and how loud things are, how big they are, how close they are, the whole shadow flicker issue, concerns about property value. For the township, there were things in our last ordinance that did not protect the township either.”

“The one thing I can’t wrap my head around is these things catch on fire – we don’t have anything to do with fire,” Wells added. “When they catch on fire, how are we going to put it out? That’s one thing that makes me a little nervous because I don’t see anything in these ordinances about fire suppression.”

Shick said she would provide her suggested ordinance to township officials as a starting place and they agreed to move forward from there in developing a new wind ordinance.

During public comment, local attorney Ron Finegood mentioned Pierson Township’s restrictive wind ordinance as a good example of what the township should adopt, which prompted Kelsey to once again disagree.

“I think Pierson Township is not a good ordinance myself,” Kelsey said. “We need more renewable energy instead of nuclear plants or fossil fuel plants.”