HURON COUNTY — It’s hard to find someone in Huron County without an opinion on wind energy.
“It’s hard to sit on the fence on this issue sometimes,” said Sami Khoury, chair of the Huron County Board of Commissioners.
County residents on all sides of the wind energy development debate are gearing up for a fierce battle that will culminate in less than five weeks with various wind-related referenda.
“It depends on every individual that lives with a wind turbine,” Khoury said.
“How comfortable are they with them? It’s gonna be part of our permanent landscape because you can’t take them out anytime soon. You just have to live with them, I guess.”
Voters in county-zoned municipalities will vote on two proposals, while voters in Lincoln and Sand Beach townships will have their own issues to vote on May 2.
Advertisements, flyers and billboards about wind development are appearing throughout the county, and that can be expected to increase in coming weeks.
As of Monday, the following ballot question committees had been registered with the Huron County Clerk’s Office: Huron County Wind Resistance, Say YES to Huron’s Future, Huron Wind Energy Coalition and Green Michigan Ballot Question Committee.
Known as the “Filion Layover,” voters will decide whether a DTE Energy wind development will proceed in parts of Lincoln, Dwight, Sigel and Bloomfield townships.
Registered voters in all county-zoned municipalities are eligible to vote on the Filion Layover, as well as a proposed development by NextEra Energy Resources, LLC in county-zoned Sherman and Sigel townships.
A “yes” vote on either overlay district would be in support of the development.
County-zoned municipalities are: Bingham, Bloomfield, Brookfield, Dwight, Fairhaven, Gore, Grant, Hume, Lincoln, McKinley, Rubicon, Sebewaing, Sheridan, Sherman, Sigel and Winsor townships.
Lincoln Township voters will find an additional question: approval of the formation of a township planning commission, which would make Lincoln self-zoned. A “yes” vote supports self zoning.
Those in favor of self-zoning are typically anti-wind.
And, self-zoned Sand Beach Township has been designated for a portion of the NextEra development as well.
Voters there will decide whether to approve amendments to the township wind ordinance, which restrict sound.
NextEra officials have said that this would make it impossible to build turbines in the township.
In August, Sherman Township voters will decide on whether to allow that township to become self zoned.
Huron County Clerk Lori Neal-Wonsowicz said failure to meet deadlines pushed that issue into the next election.
Denise Rice is the treasurer of Huron County Wind Resistance, which is raising money for awareness of its core issue:
“Enough is enough,” Rice said of the 473 turbines throughout the county. “You can argue all kinds of points, but that sums it up.”
Her feeling from going door-to-door on the east side of the county gathering signatures to force the referenda on developments is that “the majority of the people are saying what we’re saying.”
Rice said the mood of the west side of the county is harder to gauge.
Huron County Wind Resistance is using advertising, letters to the editor, Facebook and word of mouth to spread its message.
The group is comprised of “a good number of farmers,” Rice said.
She said there is a misconception that farmers support more turbines. “There are a lot of farmers that are not of that thinking,” Rice added.
Among farmers that do think that adding turbines would benefit the county is Les Booms of Lincoln Township.
“My main driving motivation for wind is for what I believe will be the long-term economic benefits to the county,” Booms said.
“I believe that the amount of money that the wind companies are investing, it will just drive economic development.”
This includes an increase in small businesses, he added.
Booms has been active in the Huron Wind Energy Coalition, and also gathered signatures to protest the formation of a planning commission in Lincoln Township.
He said that people both for and against wind energy support the move against self-zoning.
Local zoning is being considered “for one purpose only,” Booms said.
That is, “To try to reduce or limit the possibility of wind turbines, instead of what zoning is supposed to do.”
Booms is a part-time farmer, and a former engineer, who now works in the heating a cooling industry. He has a wind contract with DTE.
In the last 40 years, Booms said that he has seen an economic downturn in the area, and has watched a lot of manufacturers leave.
With that, went a lot of opportunity for hard-working young people, he said,
He expects the May 2 vote to be “very close.”
“I hope people realize what this really truly can mean to our communities if we go forward with it.