For nearly seven hours on the evening of Thursday, June 16 – and then into the small hours of Friday morning – the Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission heard testimony and evidence concerning three areas of wind turbine siting and operations: decommissioning, shadow flicker and blade glint.
The meeting was the first of several in which the zoning commission will hear testimony and evidence regarding possible amendments to the county’s wind energy regulations. Those amendments were put forward by Concerned Citizens for the Future of Clinton and DeKalb Counties – a group of residents standing in opposition to a previously-proposed wind turbine project from NextEra Energy – and the similarly-aligned Shatto Milk Company.
Legal counsels for both NextEra Energy and Concerned Citizens/Shatto Milk presented expert witnesses during the meeting in attempts to reinforce their respective stances on the three subject areas.
It was apparent Thursday that the process has a long way to go. The planning and zoning commission is scheduled to hear testimony on nine more areas of wind turbine building and operations over the next four meetings. Thereafter, the zoning commission will need to refine what, if any, amendments they’d like to approve and put forward to the Clinton County Commissioners. The zoning commission is working under a moratorium on all wind energy applications in Clinton County, which is set to expire in December.
Thursday’s meeting began at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Clinton County Courthouse and adjourned at 1:38 a.m. on Friday morning. The proceedings were broken up with several breaks throughout the evening.
Despite appearances, Clinton County Planning and Zoning Chairman Michael Adair reminded everyone Thursday that the commission isn’t a court of law. He laid out the goal at the meeting’s outset – to gather as much testimony and information as possible.
Collectively, the two sides put forward five expert witnesses on Thursday who often testified under the objection of opposing counsel. Both legal teams were allowed to cross-examine the witnesses.
Those witnesses put forward by counsel for NextEra included Neil Jones (who testified about decommissioning plans), Richard Lampeter (shadow flicker and blade glint), and Dr. Christopher Ollson (shadow flicker and blade glint). To varying degrees, all three witnesses stated they’ve performed work for NextEra in the past.
Those witnesses put forward by counsel for Concerned Citizens and Shatto Milk were Thomas Hewson (decommissioning plans) and Mary Reilly (shadow flicker). Reilly, who was the only witness of the five who was not paid to offer testimony, is the zoning director for Mason County, Michigan, and testified to the commission via Skype, an online communication service.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Thursday’s meeting and a courtroom was the audience, which was primarily anti-turbine and had no reservations about emoting their frustration or approval throughout the night. The crowd thinned as the meeting wore on, but when the final gavel tapped at 1:38 a.m., nearly 30 spectators had held on to the end.
The Clinton County Planning and Zoning Commission will hold their regular monthly meeting on Thursday, July 7, where they’re expected to continue the amendment discussions. Topics that could be addressed by all sides that day include setbacks, lot sizes and noise. On Tuesday, Clinton County Planning and Zoning Director Beth Farwell told The Leader that the meeting is expected to begin at 3 p.m. that afternoon in order to pick up wind discussions. The commission’s routine business – which will include at least two rezoning requests – will take over at 7 p.m.
The zoning commission will hold another special-session meeting two weeks later on Thursday, July 21. That night, the zoning commission is scheduled to hear testimony on just one subject – stray voltage.