The nays have it: Stanton Township survey finds 83% opposed to wind turbines; planning commission idea to go to referendum
STANTON TOWNSHIP — Stanton Township voters opposed wind turbine projects by a large margin in survey results announced Wednesday, months before they will likely head to the polls to formally vote on creating a planning commission that could write a zoning ordinance restricting the turbines.
About 83% of the 384 voters who responded to the survey were against the turbines, Township Supervisor Marty Rajala announced Wednesday. The board decided in August to send the survey to every registered voter in the township.
At the same meeting, the board had imposed a nine-month moratorium on permits for wind turbine projects, pending the outcome of the survey.
Monday, Circle Power announced it was amending its Scotia Wind Project to place all 12 turbines in Adams Township. The plan had been to put four 575-foot turbines in Adams and the rest in Stanton Township.
Circle Power partner Chris Moore said Tuesday the project layout would not have been able to accommodate a 3,000-foot setback in Stanton Township, which he anticipated the township would put into place.
Adams Township requires a 3,000-foot setback through a police powers ordinance. Stanton Township has no regulations on wind turbines.
Rajala said he believes Circle Power will come back to the township, citing an email from Moore where he said he hoped he could work with the township on future projects.
“This is one portion that they want to hold off on for right now, but I believe they’re going to go forward with it in the township unless we do something,” he said. “…I think it’s in the township’s best interest to do what our voters want us to do, and that’s to put a halt to wind turbine generators in the township.”
Moore said Thursday if the project in Adams Township goes forward, it would rule out another project in Stanton Township because of transmission capacity. He said having to withdraw from Stanton Township was unfortunate, as he thought the benefits outweighed the issues residents had with the turbines.
“We think it’s a great opportunity for local jobs and local property taxes, and it’s a shame they won’t be able to take advantage of that,” he said.
Residents in both townships, who had generally opposed township-wide zoning, have turned to the idea as a way to place more constraints on potential projects through zoning ordinances. Adams Township is reconstituting its planning commission, which had gone dormant.
Stanton Township board member Mike Pionke said more than 90 residents had signed a petition for a referendum on the planning commission, above the 61 required to get it on the ballot. Petition signatures still need to be verified.
The board voted in August to create a planning commission. However, Pionke said taking a step that important should be decided by voters.
“I think the board rushed to that planning commission ordinance two months ago,” he said. “After I thought about it, and read some of the bureaucracy we’re going to saddle ourselves with going forward for years and years and years, I didn’t feel like the board should, on its own initiative, make that decision on behalf of the voters, based on the specter of some windmills on the ridge.”
Board members indicated they would support a vote in May, as there will already be county-wide measures on the ballot.
Rajala said the intent of the planning commission would be to set up a limited zoning ordinance with minimal restrictions. Based on what township attorneys told him, he said, any future changes to the zoning ordinances would need to be passed by referendum.
“The board cannot just make a blanket statement and say, ‘We don’t want grass over 6 inches,'” he said.
Rajala said the goal was for the planning commission to draft an interim zoning ordinance, which the township would then subject to voter approval after three years.
Charles Markham of the Guardians of the Keweenaw Ridge, a citizens’ group formed in opposition to the project, said he was happy with the results of the survey. He also accepted the township sending the planning commission to a vote, saying it would place the idea on firmer footing.
“I’m happy with the way things are going,” he said. “Chris Moore’s probably the most persistent person I’ve ever met. He’s got a lot of money to invest, and he’s going to try, but he’s going to have a hard time trying in the Copper Country.”