BAD AXE — An attorney representing the county will “investigate the possibility of limiting the number of turbines in Huron County.”
The board of commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to authorize its attorney, Stephen Allen, to advise whether it’s legal to set a cap on wind turbines in the county. John Nugent, the board’s legislative chair, brought the motion for a vote.
Commissioners Ron Wruble, Sami Khoury, David Peruski and Nugent voted in favor; Clark Elftman, Rich Swartzendruber and Board Chair John Bodis were opposed.
Allen says he hasn’t talked to the board regarding the motion because he’s been out of town. He says he’ll research state zoning laws to see if there is legality in setting a limit, a process he says won’t take long.
There are more than 325 turbines operating in Huron County. Known projects underway or planned could push the total past 500 as developers start building again in spring.
“I don’t know what he’ll find,” Nugent said. “We don’t know if it’s even legal to do this.”
He says nothing is hidden in the motion, the board doesn’t have to act on Allen’s advice and it makes everyone aware of what county commissioners are doing.
“Everybody is aware,” Commissioner Rich Swartzendruber said.
Swartzendruber says Allen should look into it and give his opinion, but that the motion made Tuesday was “useless” and not needed. Allen can check the request without commissioners having to make a motion, he said.
“I think we’re jumping the gun,” Commissioner Clark Elftman said after agreeing with Swartzendruber.
Board Chair John Bodis said he’s not against exploring the legality of limiting turbines.
“(But) I don’t know why we needed a resolution to do that,” Bodis said, adding commissioners can go to Allen anytime with legal questions, and commissioners could instead talk about it amongst each other or through email.
But commissioners too often go to Allen individually seeking opinions for “bizarre” things, Nugent said.
“It leaves the rest of the commissioners out of the process,” he said. “The board should be aware if a commissioner has a legal concern.”
According to Nugent, “too many things happen away from the table.”
“I didn’t want this to be one of them,” he said.
Bodis says the motion does add transparency.
“But I don’t think it makes a difference about anything; it’s just a resolution,” he said.
Still, it’s a “volatile topic” that often turns emotional and sometimes illogical, Bodis said, adding he “really doesn’t know” what Allen will find.
“This is all new territory,” Bodis said. “I would suspect they’re going to have to find the expertise from somebody to give their expert opinion, because you can’t just pick an arbitrary number. It wouldn’t hold up in court.”
The move is a response to a “deluge” of people wanting to limit turbines and “pressure from constituents,” according to Nugent.
“The question keeps coming up and I want to have it answered,” he said. “If people don’t want any more, I’d support it.”
Joni Iseler of Huron Township says commissioners have to represent constituents on both sides.
“And, if you look at the whole picture, what will we choose next?” Iseler said. “Like, if somebody decides that they don’t like to see any more cell towers, we don’t care about the constituents who like to get better service somewhere? I mean, where is it going to end, that’s my point.”
Commissioner Ron Wruble said he’s taken “dozens and dozens of phone calls” from landowners not happy with turbines in the past two weeks — including many who already have turbines on their land. Wruble said it is a preliminary move and may not go anywhere, adding the board recently passed a motion allowing a new wind project to move ahead.
It’s “not some devious plan to curtail wind turbines,” he said.