Meeting on township solar farm anticipated

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP — While a proposed amendment to Escanaba Township’s zoning ordinance dealing with solar power did not go forward at a recent meeting of the Escanaba Township Board, work to set up another meeting on the matter is continuing.

“The planning commission is trying to schedule a joint meeting between the planning commission and the township board … to further consider the Orion application,” Terry Burkhart, Escanaba Township’s attorney and president and principal of Burkhart, Lewandowski & Miller, P.C., said Tuesday.

He noted he does not currently know of any sort of timeframe for the joint meeting.

In a meeting held earlier this month, the Escanaba Township Board voted to send the proposed amendment to the township’s zoning ordinance — which would have allowed for the construction of a large-scale solar generation facility in the township — back to the planning commission. At that time, it also agreed to hold a joint meeting with the planning commission.

Representatives from Orion Renewable Energy Group, the organization behind the proposed large-scale solar project, spoke at the township board meeting. Orion recommended three changes to the proposal to take animal trails into account, reduce the maximum sound level from 60 decibels to 45 decibels averaged over a one-hour period, and prohibit the installation of solar panels and certain related structures in rural areas or within 250 feet from the center of a public road right of way.

“A motion was made to approve the application with additional conditions, and that motion died for lack of a second,” Burkhart said.

As a result of this, a special meeting of the planning commission to discuss the Orion project that was scheduled for the day after the township board meeting was canceled.

During the township board meeting, some board members said they thought the proposed ordinance amendment was being pushed through too quickly. Board members also felt insufficiently prepared to vote, as many members were not present at planning commission meetings to avoid creating a quorum in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Concerns related to glare, property values, loss of farmland and scenic views and possible groundwater contamination were brought up by attendees of the township board meeting. Conversely, attendees in favor of the proposed amendment and solar project said the project would create jobs; bring additional tax funding to Gladstone Area Schools, Bay College, road patrol and the 911 authority; create clean energy; and provide savings for UPPCO energy customers following an agreement already reached between the two power companies.