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Commission OKs wind turbine permits

ESCANABA — After much discussion, the Delta County Planning Commission approved conditional use permits for 22 proposed wind turbine site plans during a special meeting Tuesday.

In October 2017, the Delta County Building and Zoning Department received an application from Heritage Sustainable Energy for an addition to its existing wind farm on the Garden Peninsula. The initial application included 40 site plans for new wind turbines. Based on feedback from residents during earlier planning commission meetings, Heritage chose to eliminate four turbines from the project.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner David Moyle read through the section of the county’s ordinance on wind turbines, stopping after each point to give the commission an opportunity to talk about whether or not they felt the proposed site plans would comply with the minimum requirements of the ordinance.

The commission developed a list of 18 site plans it said would not potentially be at risk of violating the ordinance. A vote was taken, and the plans were approved.

Conditional use permits for sites with the turbine IDs A2-15, A3-25, A3-30, B4-03, C1-01, C3-15, D2-15, and D4-02 were approved. Conditional use permits for sites with the turbine IDs A3-03, A4-35, B2-11, B3-03, B3-34, B4-10FS, B4-10-G, C1-14, C3-30, and C4-09 were also approved, but Heritage will need additional permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to install turbines at these sites.

Later, seven site plans for turbines to be located on Burnt Bluff were discussed. Planning Commissioner Christine Williams said she was concerned locating turbines in this area could potentially have negative effects on birds and bats.

According to Williams, a study prepared for Heritage known as “Comprehensive Avian Risk Assessment for the Garden Peninsula Wind Energy Project” recommended turbines not be placed on coastal bluffs or near wood lots along the lakeshore.

“You would be putting them in a place where you would be increasing your wildlife kills,” she said.

As a result, Williams made a motion to eliminate the seven site plans in this area from the proposal. The commission’s other members voted against doing so.

During discussion on the motion, Delta County Building and Zoning Administrator Dan Menacher noted the potential legal implications of changing Heritage’s proposal.

Moyle said he was concerned by the effects this could have on people’s property rights.

“It becomes, to me, an issue of property rights and what we’re excluding at this point,” he said.

As some commissioners had other concerns related to the Burnt Bluff site plans, a subsequent vote to approve all seven of these site plans also failed.

Some commissioners voiced concerns related to turbine noise during the meeting, as well. As they came to the conclusion that Heritage would be responsible for mitigating noise issues for sites with the turbine IDs A4-19, C2-35, C4-16, and D1-35, commissioners (with the exception of Williams) voted in favor of approving conditional use permits for the site plans Tuesday.

Earlier in the meeting, Williams made a motion that Heritage incorporate “ADLS,” or the Aircraft Detection Lighting System, on any new turbines installed in the area. She said this automated system, which allows warning lights to be turned on when aircraft is detected in an area, could have positive effects for people on the Garden Peninsula, wildlife, and Heritage.

“I see it as a win for everyone,” she said.

Heritage Project Manager Xiomara Cordoba said Heritage has not yet fully committed to ADLS due to the costs associated with it. According to Cordoba, using standard lighting on the project would cost Heritage $50,000, and the company has received quotes between $600,000 to more than $1 million for ADLS lighting.

“It’s not an inconsequential amount,” she said.

A vote on requiring Heritage to incorporate the system was taken. All of the commission’s members but Williams voted against doing so.

Discussion on the remaining 14 proposed wind turbine site plans — and concerns related to shadow flicker, noise, environmental impact, and setbacks — will continue during the commission’s regular meeting on Feb. 5.

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