STANTON TOWNSHIP – The Stanton Township Board imposed a nine-month moratorium on construction for a proposed wind turbine project at its meeting Wednesday.
Stanton Township Supervisor Marty Rajala said the moratorium would buy time until the township could complete a resident survey gauging their opinion of the Scotia Wind project, which would include 12 575-foot turbines in Adams and Stanton townships near Whealkate Bluff. The board approved sending the survey to every registered voter in the township.
“We want to know if the residents are for them or against them, and we’re going to go by a simple majority,” Rajala said.
Preliminary results from surveys handed out at the previous meeting showed 82% opposition, Rajala said.
Board members said they could abolish the moratorium if a majority of township residents support the project. The ordinance also allowed the board to pass a resolution extending the moratorium “to the extent needed to complete its consideration and development.”
“I foresee it being either a done deal, dead in the water, in nine months, or we’ll have acted in the next nine months to go down the road of zoning,” Rajala said.
The board also approved forming a planning commission, a prerequisite for setting up a township-wide zoning ordinance. Adams Township is looking to reconstitute its planning commission, which had been dormant for years.
The planning commission ordinance would have a 63-day waiting period after publication of the ordinance, Rajala said.
Rajala said the ordinance had been drafted in consultation with legal counsel. He said after the meeting he was not sure if he was allowed to provide the counsel’s name. During Wednesday’s meeting, he said it was not the firm suggested by Kevon Martis, a downstate zoning administrator who has given talks opposing large-scale wind and solar projects. Last month, Martis spoke in South Range on strategies for fighting wind projects, including moratoriums and township zoning ordinances.
Last week, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) denied Circle Powers’ wetlands permit request for the turbines, based largely on the possible danger to bald eagles and bats, including the northern long-eared bat, a federally threatened species.
Moore said Wednesday Circle Power has not decided yet whether to appeal, but said it is continuing to pursue the project.
The timing of the moratorium is “unfortunate,” Moore said. Circle Power is communicating with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding its bat and eagle conservation plans, Moore said. Circle Power also plans for post-construction surveys, “so that if our estimates are wrong, we’ll know almost immediately,” Moore said.
Over the past three years, Moore said, Circle Power has had biologists logging “thousands of hours” in the field tallying birds, including species and their flight direction. Methods have included eagle nest surveys and surveys of the area by helicopter. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service signed off on the methods before they started, Moore said.
“We have been told by U.S. Fish & Wildlife that they would prefer it if we were somewhere else,” he said at the meeting. “We have done three years of studies identifying the animals and the bats in the area. And we have the science that will show that this is not a risky site for the animals in the area.”
Charles Markham, president of the Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, the citizens’ group formed in opposition to the project, is pleased with the moratorium. In addition to the potential impact on wildlife, he and other residents worried the sights and sounds of the turbines would ruin the appeal of the area.
“I’m just ecstatic about everything,” he said. “…They’ve been told for two to three years to go somewhere else … on their original application, they looked up by Gratiot Lake and they looked at Toivola, and that was even worse, so I don’t know where they’re going to go.”
At its meeting on Monday, Adams Township board members discussed a moratorium, and considered scheduling a special meeting to act on it. Township Attorney Kevin Mackey had cited potential legal problems with the moratorium, pointing to an ongoing legal dispute in Denton Township downstate.
Asked if Circle Power was considering legal action on the moratorium, Moore said he needed to read the ordinance before commenting.
Markham said he didn’t have anything against Circle Power. If anything, he said, he blamed the landowners’ parent company Molpus, which he said had previously enjoyed a good-to-neutral reputation in the township.
“I don’t blame (Circle Power),” he said. “They’re just trying to make money.”
Moore pointed to the potential benefits for the township. The contract with Upper Peninsula Power Co. provides UPPCO with energy at $35 per megawatt hour. That could mean lower electric bills for residents, Moore said.
“We’re substantially below (what they would have paid otherwise), and we think that’s important,” Moore said.
Residents at the meeting questioned whether that would translate to savings for customers.
The turbines would also generate property taxes for the company, Moore said. A Michigan Tax Tribunal ruling earlier this year regarding a wind project downstate could result in municipalities paying back millions of dollars in taxes to utility companies. Moore said he would be willing to guarantee the property tax values.
The project would create two jobs long-term, Moore said. Short-term, it would mean jobs and spending in the area during construction.
Markham worried if the project goes ahead, it will encourage more wind farms in the area, whether from Circle Power or other companies.
“That’s the American way,” he said. “That’s how things go, if we don’t stop them now.”
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