2014-04-03 / Front Page

Wind measure discussed by commission

Ordinance will be considered in near future

MANISTIQUE – Though a proposed ordinance regulating wind turbines was not on the agenda of the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioner’s recent meeting, this did not stop commissioners and residents from discussing the controversial issue. The board also decided to take action and explore their legal options in the event the county is unable to come to a consensus with the Schoolcraft County Planning Commission.

According to the proposed amended section 508 of the Schoolcraft County Zoning Ordinance, wind energy systems under 60 feet are permitted without the necessity of an appeal to the zoning board of appeals if seven standards, including setbacks and height limits, are met.

On-site wind energy systems over 60 feet and wind site assessment systems are allowed by the ordinance if a variance is granted by the zoning board of appeals and a total of 18 standards are met. The most restricted of all the systems are grid wind energy systems, which require the installer to obtain a variance from the zoning board of appeals, meet 25 standards, and comply with a decommissioning unused or abandoned wind energy systems plan and be subject to penalties if any stipulations are violated.

Among the standards for grid systems are requirements that the systems be set back at least 3,960 feet (three-quarters of a mile) from all lot lines, high-water marks, public/private right-of-ways, easements, neighboring dwellings and businesses. The systems must also be set back 5,280 feet (one mile) from any scenic areas, parks, highways, and recreational areas. A third setback restriction of 2,640 feet (one-half of a mile) from any state or national forests is also stipulated by the amendment

According to Commissioner Craig Reiter, who spoke under the committee and department reports portion of the meeting, a recent session at the Michigan Association of Counties conference outlined the potential revenue from wind turbines and farms. He noted that the Michigan county showing the most amount of tax revenue was Huron County – which is outfitted with a large wind farm.

“Their tax roll was way up, and it wasn’t because of population or anything of that nature, it was all driven by windmills,” Reiter said. “They were the number one increased county revenue.”

He said Huron County’s tax revenue, generated by the wind farm, boosted Michigan’s economic numbers as a whole.

“ Just another thing I found interesting on how good it is to have windmills,” Reiter said.

Chairperson Al Grimm noted that he had attended the recent planning commission meeting in which the ordinance was discussed. He explained that, since the meeting, he had visited the Garden Wind Farm, owned and operated by Heritage Sustainable Energy, a few times to get an idea of what the company’s proposed wind farm in Cooks would look like.

“I would like all of you to give this a lot of thought and a lot of research,” he said.

Since the proposed ordinance will come to the commissioners for final approval and possible adoption, Grimm said it was essential that the county do some investigating.

“We have to find satisfaction for both parties – whether you like it or you don’t like them,” he said. “Somewhere, we have to get to the middle of this.”

Grimm also noted that he had changed his mind since developing his initial opinion, speaking with people on both sides of the issue.

Commissioner Sue Cameron explained she had also attended the recent planning commission meeting, as well as the initial February meeting, when the ordinance was first brought up.

“From one meeting to the next, it was one extreme to the other,” she said.

Cameron noted that though she has an opinion about the wind turbines, she will reserve her comments until the board officially addresses the subject.

Commissioner Jerry Zellar questioned what legal options the county has to ensure the issue doesn’t get stuck moving back and forth between the commissioners and the planning commission members.

“I don’t see it being resolved,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to see the county’s prosecuting attorney’s opinion on the matter.

Dave Robere, of Cooks, spoke in favor of the wind turbines and proposed Cooks wind farm during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“If you accept this draft (ordinance), there will be no windmills in Schoolcraft County,” he said.

Robere said that while he doesn’t want to see a windmill in everyone’s yard, and understands the need for restrictions, he believes the ordinance recently approved by the planning commission was “extreme”. He also noted the county has the potential to reap over $100,000 in taxes if the Cooks wind farm is comparable to the one in Garden, see job creation, and had money from the construction of the turbines pumped into the local economy.

Grimm explained that he would like to see wind turbines that aren’t as clustered as those on the Garden peninsula.

“I’m not against windmills, I’m just against them being that close together,” he said. “You convince me. You guys come up with a good plan and we’ll surely listen.”

Zellar said he went to the first meeting considering the wind turbine ordinance and no residents were in attendance. He also added that he brought the current Delta County windmill ordinance, which was put into place following the Garden Wind Farm, for the planning commission to review and use in developing their own ordinance.

“They didn’t want them; they didn’t even want to look at them,” he said.

Zellar expressed concern about the setbacks of the ordinance, both from residents and state and federal parks.

“What’s this half-mile from state and federal land? Are the squirrels upset?” he said.

Grimm said the board will take its time in considering the ordinance, which will likely be brought before them during the April 15 regular meeting.

No further action was taken on the matter.

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