The company that wants to build 50 wind turbines in Bridgehampton Township is suing over delays in its special land use application.
On May 3, the township planning commission voted to postpone the public hearing scheduled for June 14 on Michigan Wind 3’s application for a special land use permit. The commission put the hearing off until after the August referendum on the township’s public notice ordinance for special land use permits.
Last Thursday, Michigan Wind 3, owned by Exelon Generation, filed the civil complaint against the township supervisor, planning commission chairman and clerk, claiming the postponement is illegal.
The company is asking for an immediate ruling by the circuit court judge, ordering the township to hold the June 14 hearing.
A court hearing on the company’s request is scheduled for Monday, May 23 at 10 a.m. before Judge Donald A. Teeple.
The same day the suit was filed, the township board, on the advice of its regular legal counsel, voted to hire a second law firm to handle the case, Forester and Swift of Grand Rapids.
Township Supervisor Michael Haggerty is sympathetic to the company’s plight, and at odds with the planning commission’s decision to cancel the permit hearing.
The planning commission approved the June 14 date on April 4, but at the same meeting voted to ask the township board to consider a six-month moratorium on windmill projects.
On April 14, the board confirmed the June hearing, but turned down the moratorium.
Haggerty says he doesn’t know why the planning commission postponed the hearing, and feels the wind energy company deserves a decision on its application, as would any individual or business that applied for a permit.
The wind company’s application dates “back to November. This is May,” said Haggerty. “They still haven’t gotten a hearing. It seems to us they’re (planning commission) just trying to prolong the issue…to delay it.”
Haggerty added, “I agree with the whole premise. It’s been long enough. I don’t care if it’s Exelon or who it is. Dog owners or windmill developments shouldn’t have to wait six months and not have a hearing scheduled.”
The lawsuit claims waiting until the August referendum has no merit. Even if voters were to turn down the new ordinance that eliminates the requirement for personal hand delivery of notices to property owners in addition to mail delivery and newspaper notices, the hand delivery requirement is not valid.
“Any argument that posting, newspaper notices, and personal service using the U.S. mail are not sufficient is simply untrue,” the lawsuit states. “The statute specifically states that any notice required under the Zoning Enabling Act ‘is considered to be given when personally delivered or when deposited (in the U.S. mail).’”
The lawsuit claims Leo Sonck, who was appointed chairman of the planning commission in March is an “open opponent of wind energy…The delay is a political play by the Planning Commission to deprive Michigan Wind of its rights pursuant to existing laws…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 law, however, requires a public hearing and approval of the special land use permit application (if it complies with the zoning ordinance).
“Michigan Wind does not seek approval of the application from this Court, at this time, but simply seeks an Order of Superintending Control requiring the Planning Commission to hold its previously scheduled meeting and to give approval, or rejection, of the special land use permit application.”
Township resident Roger Knight, who led the referendum effort, has warned the township board that citizens will file suit if the township doesn’t support the planning commission’s decision.
Knight, who has already retained a lawyer to fight the windmill project, said, “I told the township board last night (May 12)…if they (Exelon) were to win, or if they (township board) allowed this (June 14 hearing) to happen, there would be a third party suit. We will sue for the loss of our constitutional right to a referendum. No one’s going to take our constitutional rights away.”
Knight added, “I know things aren’t going their way,” referring to Exelon, “but I don’t see any legal grounds. They’re just trying to show their muscle. There’s no contract, no permits issued.”