Wind farm developers challenge township’s terms

Muskegon County

CASNOVIA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Construction of a controversial wind farm project in southeastern Muskegon County is on hold while two legal challenges — including one from the developer — move forward.

In April, Casnovia Township approved the special use permit for American Electric Power’s Kenowa Ridge Wind Energy Project in a 3-2 vote. But that wasn’t the end of it.

“That special use approval was subject to several conditions,” township attorney Catherine Kaufman said Monday. “I believe it was over 30.”

In May, the township laid out 32 conditions for the project, including one that limited the number of turbines from 31 to 27.

AEP filed an appeal. A company spokesman said the main sticking point is a stipulation widening the required distance between turbines and homes from 1,000 feet to 1,300 feet.

“We (AEP) had to file the appeal because the township has not responded to a letter we sent in mid-May expressing concerns with two additional conditions that the township added to the approval at the last minute,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement to 24 Hour News 8 Monday.

Kaufman said the board told AEP when it granted the permit that more restrictions could follow. She said those conditions were imposed with the community in mind.

Residents have filed an appeal, too, saying the conditions should be upheld no matter what AEP wants.

“If the company decides to overturn those conditions, that is showing a complete lack of care and regard for the township’s residents,” resident Steve Sower said.

His home is nearby where one of the turbines would stand and he’s worried about health effects and equipment malfunctions.

“The proximity is just so inappropriate,” neighbor Ron Fritz agreed. “Honestly, it feels like we’re just having this industrial power plant just literally dropped on top of us, and it’s just a feeling of powerlessness.”

He’s concerned about property values should he try to move.

“If this does go in, we’re stuck,” Fritz said. “We’re trapped.”

Residents are also circulating three petitions to remove the three township board members — Clerk Jennie Powell, Treasurer Gayle Brock and Trustee Dan Winell — who approved the project’s permit.

Sower said that many of the people who signed the petitions felt the board members should not have approved a land permit without hashing out the conditions first. He and Fritz claim Kaufman also suggested that to all of the board members before the April vote.

Kaufman said the board is confident it followed all procedural due process and deliberated thoroughly before making a decision.

She said the state has clear standards for what it will consider when hearing an appeal on special use zoning permits.

“I’m confident the Muskegon County Circuit Court will look at those standards and apply them as they deem appropriate,” she said.

The township has a limited amount of time to file its response to the appeals. Kaufman said that will take a lot of work as it will include information from meetings and emails from more than 10 months ago.

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