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Speaker gives tips for anti-wind zoning

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kevon Martis speaks about his experience with zoning against wind and solar projects at South Range Elementary School Thursday.

SOUTH RANGE — More than 100 people turned out Thursday night to listen to a zoning administrator lay out the best legal steps for stopping wind development in the area.

Kevon Martis, zoning administrator for Deerfield Township in Lenawee County and an activist against large-scale wind and solar projects, addressed a crowd at the South Range Elementary School.

After a half-hour presentation, Martis took questions from audience members, who were largely Adams and Stanton Township residents seeking to stop a proposed wind farm in their township.

Thursday’s talk was sponsored by Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, a citizens’ group formed in opposition to the project, and Martis’ travel was funded by Friends of the Land of the Keweenaw (FOLK).

The project from Circle Power would include 12 575-foot turbines on Whealkate Bluff, with eight in Stanton Township and four in Adams.

The project falls within the standards set by the existing police powers ordinance in Adams Township. A previous wind project in the township did not go through after it failed to meet the setback requirements.

Stanton Township does not have an ordinance regulating wind zoning; neither Adams or Stanton has township-wide zoning.

As a tea party libertarian, Martis had also been opposed to having zoning within his township. But as energy companies began plans to launch projects in his township, Martis found the zoning ultimately offered more protection.

“What we realized as we went through the process a year and a half ago was that if we rejected zoning out of our conservative principles in the face of a heavy push from the state and the federal government, if we took local zoning off the table, we were tying our strongest arm behind our back and still saying we’re gonna fight left-handed,” he said.

Martis helped craft his township’s zoning ordinance, which had minimal restrictions, including limiting buildings to 50 feet or four stories high.

“If you want to spread sewer sludge and human waste on farm fields, we have some aggressive regulations for that,” he said. “If you want to build utility-scale wind, we have aggressive regulations for that. And we have utility-scale solar, the same thing. Everything else is business as usual.”

Martis also reviewed alternatives to township zoning, which he viewed as less effective. A police powers ordinance, such as the one Adams Township has regarding wind, cannot be overturned by referendum, unlike township zoning amendments, Martis said. Police power ordinances can also be voted down at special meetings called with 18-hour notice.

Martis also referenced a Michigan Supreme Court decision where it ruled against townships that had tried to regulate alternate-energy projects with police powers ordinances that went against the county-wide zoning ordinance. (Martis wasn’t sure how that would play out in Houghton County, which does not have county-wide zoning.)

Relying on zoning at the county level is a double-edged sword, Martis said. Strong zoning would cover individual townships. But if the majority of county commissioners support zoning more favorable to the projects, they could pass over an individual township’s opposition, he said. County-wide referendums also are harder to pass, he said.

Martis suggested the township set an effective six-month moratorium on wind project permits and put the time toward either creating a complete set of police power ordinances or a planning commission to create interim zoning ordinances.

Stanton Township Supervisor Marty Rajala thought the presentation was informative. Undecided on the wind issue, Rajala is looking for ways to engage the entire township to figure out what people would like.

“We want to listen to all the residents of the township,” he said. “We can’t listen to one or two people that are for and one or two people that are against. That’s due diligence.”

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