Still no turbine ballot language in PI County

ROGERS CITY — The Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners is waiting to review ballot language that would allow some county residents to vote on a controversial ordinance dealing with wind turbines and solar energy.

Commissioners amended the county’s wind and solar energy ordinance late last year. The ordinance addresses zoning issues pertaining to the installation of renewable energy facilities, as organizations have moved to build wind turbines in the county.

But a petition circulated by Moltke Township residents Mike and Stefani Schulte received enough signatures to force the ordinance to the ballot for the public to decide.

The board on Thursday amended its agenda to remove the approval of ballot language until the Schultes’ attorney submits it for board approval.

“What we’ve come to find out is the attorney for the other side is actually going to be writing the language,” County Clerk Ann Marie Main said.

Main told the board the type of referendum at issue is uncharted territory for her, and that she’s reached out to the board’s attorney, Joe Kwiatkowski.

“It’s not something I have ever dealt with, and the (state) Bureau of Elections can’t help me because it’s outside of the election law,” she said.

The Schultes have hired Joshua Nolan, of the Blissfield-based firm Nolan Law, to represent them. Nolan sent a letter dated Feb. 18 to the board asking them to hold the election on the next regular election in May.

The deadline for May proposals was Feb. 12. The Schultes turned in their petition signatures in November.

The board scheduled the election for Aug. 6. So far, the referendum will be the only item on the ballot in August.

Main said she anticipates the election will cost the county more than $10,000, with the money coming from the county’s general fund. Main said the county will have to pay for the production of all the ballots and the townships will have to pay for the election workers, like they always do.

The Schultes have previously voiced concern about how wind turbines on neighboring properties would impact a portion of their property where they graze cattle. Stefani Schulte said her primary concerns are related to the ordinance’s setbacks.

“They need to have a minimum setback that protects the people, that’s what a new ordinance needs to do,” she said. “DTE, the energy companies, do not want those minimum setbacks because now they cannot put a turbine on a quarter-mile parcel. It’s inconvenient for them, but it does not stop them.”

The Schultes have since relocated to Marshall.

Several other Moltke Township residents have also voiced concerns about wind turbines to county commissioners.

In the meantime, County Building and Zoning Official Mike Libby said the county is continuing to operate under its original wind turbine ordinance. If the voters decide they do not like the county’s ordinance, Libby said the county would continue to operate under the original ordinance, which included far fewer specifications for turbines to follow.

Libby said the county also would form a subcommittee of the Planning Commission to write a new ordinance to regulate wind and solar energy.

Libby acknowledged a potential project is in the works but said the county has not yet received an application for any wind turbine generation.

“There has been a company that has been attempting to have property owners sign leases, but it’s my understanding a lot of that stuff is on hold because of the controversy of the county’s ordinance,” he said. “I don’t believe anybody is going to want to invest that kind of money with the uncertainty of the ordinance.”

Crystal Nelson can be reached at cnelson@thealpenanews.com or 989-358-5687.