A company planning a 68-turbine wind farm in Sanilac County has taken a township to court, demanding its planning commission hold a June 14 public hearing on the company's special land use permit.
Bridgehampton Township Supervisor Mike Haggerty said he was served the lawsuit during the township’s Thursday meeting.
“We weren’t expecting it now,” Haggerty said. “But we were expecting one side or another was going to end up filing suit.”
Haggerty said the township is looking for a law firm to review the suit and possibly represent the township.
“We don’t know at this point what our options are and where we would stand fighting it,” he said.
Exelon’s complaint for superintending control — a request that the circuit judge overrule the planning commission decision — was filed in Sanilac County Circuit Court Thursday, 10 days after the planning commission voted to table a public hearing on Exelon’s application for a special land use permit for its planned development, Michigan Wind 3.
“The delay is a political play by the Planning Commission to deprive Michigan Wind of its rights …” the complaint read.
“Anti-wind opponents hope to delay any action on wind energy until November when the township might elect new township trustees who will stop any wind projects.”
The project would include the construction of 68 turbines in Bridgehampton, Custer and Marion townships — 50 of them are slated for construction in Bridgehampton Township.
Krista Lopykinski, a spokeswoman for Exelon, said the planning commission's decision "unnecessarily delays" the project. She said the company's permit application is in compliance with the Township ordinance, which protects both participants and non-participants.
"We are simply asking the court to issue an order instructing the Bridgehampton Township Planning Commission to act on the Michigan Wind 3 special land use permit application in a timely manner, which its legally required to do," Lopykinski said in an email.
According to its complaint, Exelon began working toward permits for the project in September 2014, and met with the township supervisor, who now has a lease with Exelon, in January 2015.
The township board adopted a revised wind energy facility ordinance, which included revised setback distances from windmills, Aug. 13.
The revisions became law in September. Exelon submitted its application for special land use Nov. 13, and a public hearing date was set for Jan. 5.
But, in late December, a lawyer for township resident Roger Knight wrote a letter to the board alleging conflicts of interest among board members who held leases with Exelon. The letter also claimed residents had not been properly notified of the Jan. 5 hearing because the board had not personally delivered notices to each impacted property owner, a requirement of the township’s zoning ordinance.
The board cancelled the Jan. 5 hearing and, on Feb. 16, eliminated the requirement for personal delivery. The ordinance revision was challenged by a referendum, which will be voted on in August.
The board rescheduled the public hearing on Exelon’s special land use permit for June 14, but the planning commission at its May 3 meeting voted to table the hearing until after the August referendum.
Ten days later Exelon asked Sanilac County Circuit Court to intervene. The company asked the judge to compel the scheduling of the June 14 meeting and order the planning commission to vote on the application.
The motion also requests that the Bridgehampton Township ordinance requiring hand delivery of public hearing notices be disregarded in favor of state rules that require either hand delivery or mailed notices.
Knight, the resident who in December demanded the hand delivery requirement be followed, said that issue should be decided by a referendum vote by the people.
“If they pursue that and the township doesn’t fight it, there will be a third party lawsuit because I won’t let my constitutional right to referendum be taken away,” Knight said.
“This is a frivolous suit. They just want to bully their way through because they want what they want when they want it.”
Exelon asked the judge to take immediate action on its request since the usual 21-day response period would not leave Exelon enough time to notify residents before a June 14 public hearing. A hearing to discuss the motion for immediate action is scheduled for May 23.
“If the Planning Commission continues to delay the hearing, it will cost Michigan Wind more money to complete the project, and Michigan Wind could suffer damages under an existing power agreement if Michigan Wind cannot meet its supply obligations by the end of 2016,” the motion reads.
Exelon could not immediately be reached for comment.