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Township continues solar debate

ESCANABA TOWNSHIP — After rejecting the Escanaba Township Planning Commission’s recommendation that it approve a proposed amendment to the township’s zoning ordinance dealing with solar power, the Escanaba Township Board once again sent the proposed amendment back to the planning commission during a joint meeting Monday. Terry Burkhart, Escanaba Township’s attorney and president and principal of Burkhart, Lewandowski & Miller, P.C., spoke about what lies ahead for discussions on the matter.

Currently, Burkhart said the future of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment is unclear.

“There are no specific plans,” he said.

The next solar power-related meeting in Escanaba Township will be a meeting of the planning commission.

“At that time, the planning commission’s going to have to decide how to … fulfill its mandate regarding further consideration of the proposed solar ordinance zoning amendment,” Burkhart said.

Burkhart said the meeting is set to take place at Escanaba Township Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7.

An ordinance similar to the proposed zoning ordinance amendment was approved earlier in 2019 by the board. However, the ordinance legally needed to be included in the township’s zoning ordinance and could not function as a stand-alone ordinance.

Because of this, the solar ordinance was converted into a proposed zoning ordinance amendment. During a meeting held in July, the planning commission voted almost unanimously — with the exception of Tom Rymkos — to recommend the township board approve a modified version of the proposed amendment.

In a meeting that took place last month, the township board voted to send the proposed amendment back to the planning commission. The board also agreed to hold a joint meeting with the planning commission at this time.

During the nearly four-hour-long joint meeting, members of the township board and planning commission heard from representatives of Orion Renewable Energy Group, which aims to develop a solar farm in the township. Experts on topics related to Orion’s proposed project and members of the public spoke at the joint meeting, as well.

Joint meeting attendees expressed both support of and opposition to solar development in Escanaba Township. Those in favor of Orion’s proposed project said it would allow farmers to make money off of land they are unable to rent; those against it expressed concerns related to potential groundwater contamination and the use of agricultural land for large-scale solar development.

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