ST. JOHNS — Three townships did not have the authority to enact and enforce the ordinances they passed last year to restrict a $120 million wind energy project, a Clinton County circuit judge has ruled.
“Each township’s wind turbine ordinance is invalid, unenforceable, and therefore, void,” Judge Randy Tahvonen wrote in a six-page decision he signed Monday. The ruling was released Tuesday.
Ordinances adopted last year by Dallas, Essex and Bengal townships in northern Clinton County “are more restrictive zoning ordinances masquerading as police power regulations,” Tahvonen said.
With the ruling, the 39-turbine project that has divided residents since it was proposed in 2008 moved a big step closer to starting.
“We have a special use permit to construct this project and we intend to go forward,” said Grand Rapids attorney Jon Bylsma, who represented Forest Hill Energy-Fowler Farms LLC in its lawsuit against the townships.
“It certainly sounds like good news,” said project developer Tim Brown of Chicago. He was traveling Tuesday an declined to elaborate until he was able to read the decision.
Farmer Bob Boettger, who plans to host eight turbines on 2,450 acres of land he owns or rents, welcomed the ruling.
“That’s terrific, that’s wonderful,” Boettger said. “We’ve been working nearly four years and thought we’d be up and spinning by now. But, you just take every step as it comes and it will work out. The process has worked well even though at times it’s been frustrating.”
Okemos attorney Bill Fahey, who represented Dallas Township in writing its ordinance and who argued the case before Tahvonen in July and earlier this month, said each township has the right to appeal the ruling.
The township boards must decide and file any appeals within 21 days, Fahey said.
The project calls for each of the 39 turbines to reach a height of 427 feet at the highest point of the blade rotation.
Only 14 Michigan skyscrapers are taller. At 345 feet, the Boji Tower in downtown Lansing is the area’s tallest building. The state Capitol tops out at 267 feet.
Farmer Ken Wieber was among residents who opposed the project in recent years, often expressing concern about the impact of the turbines on residents’ health and property values.
“We thoroughly disagree with this decision and we encourage the townships to appeal this incorrect ruling,” he said.
“I still think the townships will try to stall it,” Boettger said. “But once they run out of money, I guess it’s over with. The insurance companies have paid the attorneys fees or most of them to this point. Hopefully the insurance companies will tell them, ‘you’re on your own now.’ ”