Circle Power: No decision on appeal of permit denial

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Adams Township Supervisor Gerald Heikkinen talks about a proposed wind turbine project in Adams and Stanton townships during Monday’s Adams Township meeting.

SOUTH RANGE — Circle Power has yet to decide whether it will appeal the state’s denial of its wetlands permit for the Scotia Wind project, but is continuing to work with agencies on mitigation strategies, partner Chris Moore said at Monday’s Adams Township meeting.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) Water Resources Division (WRD) denied the permit request for the 12-turbine development over concerns the public benefit would not outweigh the potential harm to wetlands habitats and wildlife such as bald eagles and northern long-eared bats, the latter of which is a federally threatened species. Circle Power has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

“We are continuing to work with the (U.S.) Fish & Wildlife Service to get them comfortable with the information that we provided, and with the eagle plan and the bat plan that we put in place,” Moore said.

The Department of Natural Resources and USFWS found a high likelihood of migratory routes for eagles and bats passing along the corridor where the proposed project is located, EGLE said. Estimates of the bat population before white nose syndrome estimated more than 3,500 bats hibernated nearby. That included 300 northern long-eared bats and more than 3,000 little brown bats, which are imperiled.

“If you look at the documents on the EGLE website, since 2017, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has been telling you that that Keweenaw Ridge is not an appropriate place to site large-scale wind turbines,” said James Mihelcic, secretary of Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, a citizens’ group formed in opposition to the project. “…Your study doesn’t even talk about the 20 to 80 Golden eagles that are measured or counted every spring up on Brockway Mountain, and Golden Eagles are a very rare raptor, east of the Mississippi.”

Moore said studies conducted over the past three years by Pittsburgh-based Civil & Environmental Consultants provided counts at interior points, and not just Brockway.

“It used to be believed that eagles and raptors migrated along the ridgeway,” he said. “What our science shows (is) that’s not true.”

Mihelcic relayed a conversation with Tech professor and ornithologist David Flaspohler about how raptors move along thermals along ridges, and pointed to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service map showing the ridge as part of the migratory path.

The bat conservation study by C&EC, prepared for the Scotia Wind project in June, estimated there were about nine northern long-eared bats and 303 little brown bats left within 25 miles of the project. That would kill 0.02 bats per year, assuming equal distribution throughout the migratory area, the study said.

The mitigation plan proposed several measures, including feathering the wind turbines — turning the blades parallel to the prevailing wind to reduce the rotation of turbine rotors — at speeds below 3 meters per second. That would occur during peak migratory windows in spring and fall.

Moore also addressed comments he had seen about the project, telling the crowd that no additional machines or requests for interconnection are on their way, and that the agreements are to sell the power generated by the turbines locally to the Upper Peninsula Power Co.

About 173 acres will be taken out of Commercial Forest Reserve for the project, he said; however, only about 50 acres closest to the turbines will be unusable for hunting and fishing.

At Monday’s township meeting, residents asked the board to impose a moratorium in which the township could grant no permits for wind projects. The idea had been suggested by Kevon Martis, a zoning administrator in Deerfield Township downstate who has spoken against wind and solar projects around the state.

Adams Township attorney Kevin Mackey said while moratoriums have been upheld had the federal level, there is no statutory authority in Michigan for them.

“He even said it in the talk, ‘Haha, it’s a lawyer joke that you can’t do it past six months, because that’s how long it takes to get the court,'” Mackey said. “There’s never been one upheld in Michigan that I know of for longer than six months.”

A township-wide referendum would be on stronger legal footing, Mackey said. A moratorium on solar projects in Benton Township, and the interim zoning ordinance enacted during it, went to the state Court of Appeals. While the Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the solar company’s suit claiming the interim zoning ordinance, it said the court had improperly dismissed two counts related to the moratorium.

Like L’Anse Township, where a wind turbine project was defeated, Benton Township had an existing zoning plan, Mackey said. A referendum in Benton Township was used to block the variance the county had planned to grant to site the solar project in an agricultural district.

“Because of the referendum and the existing zoning, they were able to put this moratorium in place,” he said. “But they also immediately put the temporary rezoning in place … if they didn’t have it already zoned for agricultural, they would have no basis to go after it.”

Township residents at the meeting said they wanted to take their chances with a moratorium to halt the project as quickly as possible.

“We don’t know about zoning, but we found out that you don’t have to make it so that you don’t have to have a 6-foot-high yellow fence,” said Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge board member Jennifer Sleeman. “I found out there’s options, and we want to learn those options before we just let them come in and ruin our community.”

Township Supervisor Gerald Heikkinen said the township would look at scheduling a special meeting to decide on whether to enact a moratorium.


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