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Board of two set to determine fate of $200M wind turbine project in Tuscola Co.

The future of a $200 million wind turbine project in Almer Township lies in the hands of two members of the zoning board of appeals set to meet Feb. 16.

Mike Wester and Larry Green – sworn in as alternates for the zoning board of appeals less than two weeks ago – will consider an appeal filed by Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources L.L.C., after the company’s application for special land-use permit was denied by the township board in January.

The company needs approval to move forward with plans to construct 19 wind turbines in the township that are part of the Tuscola III Wind Energy Center that would also be in parts of Fairgrove and Ellington townships. The plan calls for a total of 52 wind turbines.

“Actually, before (the Almer Township board) even turned it down, NextEra requested a hearing in front of our zoning board of appeals,” said Jim Mantey, supervisor, Almer Township.

Mantey said NextEra officials seek clarification on one part of Almer Township’s ordinance – specifically with regard to sound.

“So on the 16th of the month, our zoning board of appeals will give them a hearing, and will give them their opinion,” Mantey said, adding that he believes the zoning board has 30 days to consider the information provided and render a decision.

Almer Township’s zoning board of appeals is a three-person board that meets on an as-needed basis. Mantey said he couldn’t even recall the last time the zoning board of appeals met.

Its members are Art Graff, Norm Daniels and Aaron Reinbold. Because Graff also serves as a township trustee and Daniels is a member of the planning commission – and both already voted on the project – they will be replaced with the alternates, in this case, Wester and Green. Both were appointed by Mantey.

Mantey said he learned late Wednesday – after legal public notice of the meeting ran in the print edition of The Advertiser – that Reinbold will not be at the Feb. 16 meeting due to a scheduling conflict that was unknown when the meeting was set up.

“We will still have a quorum…it will basically just be the two alternates,” Mantey said.

The Almer Township Planning Commission voted 3-1 on Jan. 4 to deny recommending the township board of trustees approve the application that would allow NextEra Energy Resources (NEER) to construct the part of Tuscola III that is supposed to be in Almer. Two members abstained due to conflicts of interest.

NEER filed the application for special land use permit on Sept. 23, 2016, and the planning commission had 100 days to make a recommendation one way or another, per Almer ordinance. Jan. 4 was the 100th day.

At the Jan. 4 meeting, planning commission members Norm Daniels and Jim Tussey took issue with NEER on several aspects of its application and supplemental information submitted subsequently in November and December.

“It’s my opinion that the applicant has not met the requirements of the Almer Charter Township zoning ordinance,” said Daniels leading into a prepared document outlining his reasons for making a motion to recommend denial of the application.

Since November, much of the discussion in Almer Township with regard to NEER’s application has been on the part of the ordinance that mandates wind turbine noise “shall not exceed” 45 decibels.

Township officials felt the way that NEER proposed to measure sound would allow it to use an average, essentially allowing wind turbines to be louder than 45 decibels at times. They’ve often compared it with someone speeding who gets pulled over by a police officer and then tries to argue his/her average speed limit was appropriate, even if the driver went way above it at some points.

NEER representatives, however, have argued the ordinance is ambiguous, and that the application meets ordinance requirements.

Bryan Garner, manager of communications at NextEra Energy Resources, told The Advertiser that, with regard to the future of Tuscola III, NEER continues “to evaluate our options.” He provided no further detail.

In Fairgrove Township, the planning commission approved NEER’s special land-use permit by a 4-0 vote (three members abstained). Unlike Almer and Ellington townships (where the respective planning commissions recommend action to their township boards), the Fairgrove Township planning commission has the final say on the permit.

NEER officials and representatives appeared before the Fairgrove Township Planning commission for a public hearing on Dec. 14. NEER representative Eric Lopez said sound from wind turbines “will be below 55 (decibels),” among other things.

Rich Lampier, NEER’s sound expert who has been at several meetings in Tuscola County, added that sound “shall not exceed 55 (decibels) for more than 3 minutes an hour.”

NEER representatives also said shadow flicker issues are “not to exceed more than 30 hours per year,” and identified the estimated cost of decommissioning a wind turbine to be $66,716 – an estimate to be addressed every five years.

The township also is to receive a quarterly report on any complaints received via NEER’s complaint hotline, which will be posted in the township hall.

The next step for Tuscola III in Fairgrove Township would be site plan review. Minutes from the Dec. 14 planning commission meeting indicate it could take up the matter as soon as April 10.

In Ellington Township, the board of trustees passed a one-year moratorium on wind turbine projects in November, essentially to give the township more time to strengthen its wind ordinance, said Russell Speirs, supervisor, Ellington Township.

Unlike Almer Township, Ellington does not have a stipulation in its ordinance that requires it to respond to NEER’s application within a certain time frame. As a result, public hearings scheduled by the Ellington Township Planning Commission to address NEER’s application filed in September have been postponed until the moratorium is lifted.

The Almer Township Zoning Board of Appeals will meet Feb. 16, 6 p.m., at the Almer Township Hall, 1310 Cameron Road, Caro.

Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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