BAD AXE — A developer with plans to build wind turbines standing almost 500 feet tall near Huron County Memorial Airport won’t need a special permit to do it.
Twenty-three of DTE Energy’s 30 turbines planned for its Pinnebog Wind Park in Oliver, Chandler and Colfax townships are within a 10-mile radius of the public airport.
The townships have OK’d the plan, but it needed approval from the county in accordance with an airport zoning ordinance approved in 2014, which in part helps eliminate hazards posed to the airport and its users.
“I did review all 23 sites,” said Jeff Smith, the county’s building and zoning director.
He said he ensured all sites were under lease and verified distances turbines were from the airport.
“I even took the time and created my own Google map and I used all the latitudes and longitude coordinates for all the turbine sites to confirm that what DTE provided me was accurate,” Smith said.
“You’d think that close to the airport, they couldn’t possibly build these turbines because of the height. But as you go away from the airport, the grade elevation falls off.”
In order to build a turbine, developers must obtain a determination of no hazard to air navigation from the FAA and a tall structure permit from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Smith says he confirmed with MDOT that DTE has done this.
“We planned for that 10-mile radius,” former DTE Energy Project Manager Mike Serafin told the Tribune in 2014 (http://bit.ly/1mgaR7R). “We knew there was some latitude within the last four miles, so we planned accordingly with that also.”
Smith said the owners of Engler Field Airport in northern Colfax Township objected to a few of DTE’s proposed sites, and the developer couldn’t build some sites it wanted to.
A separate but related scenario isn’t playing out as easily.
Patrick Smith, director of environmental planning at the Minnesota-based Geronimo Energy, said the developer plans to start construction for 30 turbines in the Apple Blossom Wind Farm in McKinley and Winsor townships once frost laws are lifted, around April.
An Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association official sent a letter to the county in January claiming the ability for general aviation pilots and a landowner who’s participating in the project to safely use a private airstrip near one of the planned sites is threatened. The organization asked county planners to hold off on approvals or granting permits “until a time when safe ingress and egress from private airstrips in the immediate vicinity can be assured.” (That story here: http://bit.ly/1Q7FEf4.)
“We’ve actually already eliminated one turbine … but also we’re getting pretty far down the road,” Patrick Smith of Geronimo said. “We’ve got conditional approval from this board and we’re concerned that it’s a little bit late in the process for us to do anything.”
Because the airstrip isn’t registered and is not for public use, planners say their hands are tied in terms of local regulation.
“All we can do is try to encourage (Geronimo and the landowner) to resolve this,” Planning Chair Clark Brock said.
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