HURON COUNTY — A Chandler resident sent a doctor’s note to the county validating a concern that if she is exposed to a wind turbine, slated to be built a quarter-mile from her home, it would be “very disorienting and potentially harmful to her.”
The letter, sent by Deb and Ron Ruth, includes an attachment from Scott Baker, a Bay City ear, nose and throat specialist. The Tribune contacted Baker’s office, which said he was out until next week. Baker’s signature appears on a letter received by the county building and zoning office Sept. 30 regarding patient Debra Ruth of Elkton.
Baker writes that Ruth has Meniere’s disease in both ears, leaving her with “very little hearing function” and “essentially no balance function in either ear.” Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness and a roaring sound in the ears called tinnitus — a common cause of hearing loss, according to the National Institute of Health. Scientists do not know the cause of the disease, and there is no cure.
“When she is exposed to visual stimuli such as a Ferris wheel or a windmill it causes what is call(ed) visual vertigo, which would be very disorienting and potentially harmful to her. She has asked me to speak on her behalf in regards to this matter and I think that her concerns are reasonable and valid,” the letter states.
Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director, said it was the first time he’s seen such a letter from a medical professional.
Smith said he doesn’t see it as validating health concerns for wind turbines, but could in the future.
“We may seek correspondence from them as it progresses,” Smith said.
But because the township Ruth lives in isn’t under the county’s zoning jurisdiction, Smith said he isn’t sure what can be done besides investigating the matter.
Ruth, in a letter dated Aug. 18 and received by Smith’s office Aug. 31, writes her condition causes a severe spinning sensation.
“It can happen when I look at things that are spinning,” the letter states. “If this turbine goes up by our house I might not be able to go in my yard or look out my front window without triggering an attack.”
The Tribune could not reach Ruth to verify the letter. Smith says he has not confirmed the letter was sent by Ruth.
However in April, readers were asked to submit questions they had about wind energy the Tribune would ask during a DTE Energy media tour. Ron Ruth contacted the Tribune, requesting to ask whether anyone complained of contracting Meniere’s disease because of a turbine. DTE officials said they hadn’t heard such a complaint in research they’ve reviewed.
DTE’s Matt Wagner said he had talked with the Ruths many times. One solution involved shielding the turbine from their home, using trees to block the view, he said.
DTE has been approved for a 30-turbine project in Chandler, Oliver and Colfax townships. A spokesperson could not confirm Thursday if it still planned to build the turbine near the Ruths’ home.
The Himmels, of Elkton, also penned an Aug. 28 letter to Smith. They said it was not a professional medical opinion from Nick Himmel, a physician’s assistant with a family practice in Ubly, but that it was sent out of concern for their neighbor, the Ruths. The Tribune contacted the Himmel family, which verified the letter.
“We are pleading with you not to let this turbine go up,” the letter states.
The Himmels say they’re concerned for their neighbor’s health and question how Ruth would “cope with a massive, spinning wind turbine about a quarter mile from her front door.”
“We are also deeply concerned that this turbine will ruin any beauty our little farm has and consequently its property value. This turbine will completely dominate our landscape, making it look like an industrial zone and it will forever mar our beautiful sunset view, which was one of the reasons we bought this farm in the first place. We never imagined something like this could happen when we bought this property,” the letter states.