Regulations in Cass County fall short of ones an advocate of wind turbine zoning says are necessary for health, safety and welfare.
Kevon Martis, former vice chairman of the Riga Township Planning Commission in southeastern Michigan's Lenawee County, addressed a crowd of about 230 in the Community Center at the Cass County Fairgrounds Saturday night. The Cass County Property Rights Group, which opposes a wind turbine project proposed for northern Cass and Miami counties, organized the meeting, which also drew speakers opposing wind turbine projects in Canada, Ohio and eastern Indiana.
Martis is director of the Interstate Informed Citizens Coalition, a nonprofit corporation that raises public awareness of the potential impacts of industrial wind turbines. He's also a senior policy fellow at the Energy and Environmental Legal Institute in Washington, D.C.
Cass County's wind energy ordinance requires setbacks of 1,000 feet from homes and the length of a rotor blade from property lines.
Renewable Energy Systems Americas, or RES, is proposing turbines across northern Cass and Miami counties. The company has indicated turbines will be 1,500 feet from homes and a distance of 1.1 times their height from property lines. While RES has yet to choose a type of turbine, it has indicated they'll be about 600 feet tall and won't exceed 700 feet.
Cass County officials who support the project feel it would be an economic boon.
"Too often I see county governments be enticed by the thought of additional tax revenue without raising taxes," Martis said Saturday. "But in truth, placing turbines in just a few townships for countywide revenue enhancements is actually a decision to tax those few townships with the loss of amenity at home and quality of life without compensation."
Measuring turbine setbacks to homes grants legal access to neighboring property without consent or compensation and is "fundamentally unjust," Martis said.
It prevents a landowner from building on their own property if the desired location is too close to a turbine on a neighboring property, for instance, he said.
"That's just basic land-use policy," he said of measuring to property lines. "You pay taxes on your entire piece of property, the setbacks need to protect your entire piece of property."
His remarks echoed local criticism toward the project proposed for Cass County that's part of the bases of a petition calling for larger setbacks from property lines and a lawsuit against county officials.
Measuring setbacks to homes is further flawed, Martis said, when considering turbine safety manuals that specify a radius of 1,640 feet should be maintained from a turbine during dangerous events like fires.
Such a radius could potentially encompass homes under setbacks required by Cass County and those intended by RES.
Martis also referred to information published by Wind Energy, a peer-reviewed journal, reporting pieces of turbine blades 7 to 16 tons could be thrown almost 2,300 feet to 1.2 miles and ice 328 feet to 2,000 feet.
RES has indicated in the past that the turbines planned for Cass and Miami counties will be equipped with technology that will perceive ice buildup and prevent the turbine from operating until the ice sheds.
Martis said the Riga Township wind ordinance he worked on establishes setbacks to nonparticipating property lines of four times turbine height along with smaller setbacks from leaseholders' homes, both of which can be reduced by signing a waiver.
"What that means is the wind company now has to negotiate an easement with everybody that lives around wind turbines instead of just a few large landowners," he said. "That's fair."
Martis emphasized he did not speak at Saturday's event to tell Cass County what to do, but told attendees if they feel he made a credible case, then it was up to them to convince their elected officials.
Cass County Commissioners President Jim Sailors has indicated in the past that a change to the rules this far into the project would kill it and be unfair to those who support it.
Jessica Brooks of Chatham-Kent, Ontario, east of Detroit, spoke at Saturday's meeting as well. She said she and her husband, Paul, and their children live in a wind farm developed by RES and Samsung slated to go online this month.
Brooks said pile driving during the construction of the turbines caused black shale, a bedrock containing arsenic, radon, lead, mercury, radiant material and heavy metals, to contaminate their well water.
Brad Lila, director of development for RES, said by phone Sunday that pile driving won't be required for the project proposed for Cass and Miami counties. He's said in the past that foundations of about 9 feet deep will be needed for the turbines because of the kind of soil that exists within the proposed project area.
Ohio, decommissioning and election
Ruth Baker, Logansport, read a letter Saturday from Brenda DeLong, who lives in the footprint of an industrial wind turbine project in Van Wert County, Ohio. DeLong also provided videos that were played of the sound the turbines near her make and shadow flicker cast in her home. She said in her letter that the project has caused her to suffer health issues, has resulted in drainage tile that was not replaced properly and annoyance from the turbines' noise and blinking red lights.
Lila has said in the past that lights on turbines for the proposed project in Cass and Miami counties will only blink when aircraft are in the area.
During a Q-and-A after the speakers, Martis said in his experience, landowners are often stuck with turbine pedestals after they're decommissioned and removed. Developers steer clear of areas where rules require removal of pedestals, he added.
Cass County's wind ordinance requires turbines to be removed to at least 4 feet below ground within a year of discontinuation or abandonment. It also requires the ground to be restored as much as realistically possible to the way it was before the turbine went in.
Martis went on to recommend that the county require wind energy developers to pay for the county's hiring of an independent third-party engineer to assign proper valuation for decommissioning turbines and require developers to post bonds to ensure deconstruction.
The section about decommissioning in Cass County's ordinance requires the posting of a bond and that the developer must provide cost estimates "made by a competent party," but does not specify the developer should pay for the county to hire an independent third-party engineer.
Lila said Sunday that while the decommissioning agreement between Cass County and RES has yet to be finished, it will require an independent third-party engineer to provide estimates and that he's almost certain RES will have to pay for the study.
Jeremy Kitson, also of Van Wert County, Ohio, spoke at Saturday's event too. He keynoted an event organized by the Cass County Property Rights Group in December in Royal Center.
Craig Mosburg of Fayette County spoke Saturday as well about his fight against a NextEra Energy wind project.
Ryan Browning of the Clymers area, who opposes the local wind project and will be on the Republican ballot for Cass County Commissioner District 3 in the May primary, closed out the meeting. He's challenging incumbent Jeff LeDonne, who supports the wind project. Browning thanked Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson, who supports the wind project and was the only commissioner in attendance, for coming, which the audience seconded with applause.
"I'm greatly looking forward to working with you starting Jan. 1," Browning told Anderson.