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Pierson Township planners edit wind ordinance

PIERSON TOWNSHIP – The Pierson Township Planning Commission voted on April 15 to make several “text edits” to its wind turbine ordinance in an attempt to clear up some confusion; however, the action resulted in more confusion for some audience members.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend to the township board that setbacks are three times a commercial turbine height from occupied structures; three times a turbine height from non-participating property lines; and two times a turbine height from roadways.

A three times setback for non-commercial turbines was previously changed and approved last November as a two times setback, which was also briefly discussed during the April 15 meeting but was left as is.

Pierson Township Clerk Sara Burkholder said the clarifications were made to address some confusion regarding comments made by Zoning Administrator Orvin Moore at a township board meeting last November.

Chairman Jim Ward, Donna Ericksen, Bill Grice, Tyler Lecceadone and Moore all voted “yes” to making the clarifications while commissioner Dave Johnson was absent.

No other changes were made to the township’s wind ordinance regarding commercial turbine height or setback or noise levels.

Some audience members on Zoom during the April 15 meeting seemed to think the Planning Commission was making major changes to its wind ordinance, based in part on Apex Clean Energy Senior Development Manager Albert Jongewaard being present at the meeting and asking commissioners to consider changing some of the language in the current ordinance. However, no action was taken on Jongewaard’s request during the meeting.

“We already had the public hearing and adopted the ordinance,” Moore told audience members on Zoom. “This was nothing more than a text edit. The developer (Apex) did not ask for this. I asked for clarification.”

“They were just cleaning up the language to make sure all the times of the setbacks were for each specific area,” Burkholder added. “They were just readdressing for clarification for publication.”

The Pierson Township Board will meet for its regular meeting at 7 p.m. tonight.

CONCERNS FROM APEX

The Pierson Township Board voted 3-1 to approve a fairly restrictive wind ordinance in November 2020. The board voted 4-1 in February to amend the ordinance to establish a wind energy zone to allow commercial wind tower construction on six and a half sections east of Federal Road (old 131), which is mostly agricultural land.

During the April 15 Planning Commission meeting, Jongewaard noted Pierson Township’s ordinance was originally written by Almer Township officials with the intention of discouraging wind development there and the ordinance was later replicated in Casnovia Township.

“I think the intention of the folks who did it (wrote the ordinance) was to make it just about impossible for anybody to come in here and do a wind project,” Jongewaard said.

Jongewaard voiced concern with Pierson Township’s turbine height limit and noise limit in particular.

“The height limit is something we’d like you to consider,” he said. “The sound limits are extraordinarily detailed. They are on the face and in practice quite restrictive and would very likely limit any wind developer from considering trying to develop a project in this particular district. That’s a piece I’d consider looking at quite strongly.”

Jongewaard added that he believed the current ordinance’s wording about decommissioning and shadow flicker contains “overly burdensome language.” He said if the township wants farmers to the east of Federal Road to participate in Apex’s proposed wind farm, “then we would encourage the Planning Commission and the board to consider some potential changes to the ordinance. The rules as they’re laid out in this ordinance would make it very difficult, if not impossible for a wind project to move in.”

Pierson Township’s zoning ordinance can be viewed at piersontwp.org/zoning-assessor.