FREMONT TWP. — There was lengthy discussion during public comment at the Fremont Township board meeting last Thursday night, as members of the community voiced concerns about the potential wind turbine farms that will be located in Fremont and neighboring Speaker Township.
While there was no new business regarding the project, it was stated at the meeting that the township may add 10 or 15 turbines to the total, a total which already includes 54 between the two townships, including 31 in Fremont.
About a dozen members of the audience addressed the board during public comment, which lasted nearly two hours.
Questions were asked regarding health concerns about the wind turbines, the size of the turbines, how the turbines could potentially affect property value, setbacks and a handful of other concerns.
Janet O’Connor, who stated that she is a recently retired healthcare professional, started the discussions with a presentation about potential health concerns.
“After learning about the Liberty Power Riverbend Project, many of us have taken a deep dive into what that means for community,” O’Connor said. “We have a number of valid health, safety and welfare concerns. I realize that you know, as elected officials, that you have an obligation to protect the health, safety and welfare of your constituents.
“My husband George and I are past farmers and landowners, and we understand the position of many of the board members, community members and those who will financially benefit if this project moves forward and we actually celebrate that with you. But we want you to understand that we are genuinely concerned about our health, our safety and our healthcare.”
O’Connor brought up concerns about fire safety regarding the turbines, including toxic fumes that come with turbine fires; shadow flicker and Wind Turbine Syndrome.
According to the National Library of Medicine, the association between wind turbines and health effects is highly debated. Some argue that reported health effects are related to wind turbine operation (electromagnetic fields, shadow flicker, audible noise, low-frequency noise, infrasound), while others suggest that when turbines are sited correctly, effects are likely attributable to a number of subjective variable that result in an annoyed/stressed state.
O’Connor added that the setbacks related to the wind turbines needed to be reviewed, as the ordinance did not reflect the change of the maximum height of the proposed turbines to 700 feet.
“That is a height where there are currently zero 650-to-700-foot turbines in the state of Michigan, and we were only able to find one, located in Texas in a remote area,” she said. “When adjustments were made to the wind ordinance, the turbine height maximum was increased, but it appears that there was little focus or look at the minimum setback requirements. The information that we’ve looked at says that our current setbacks are potentially unsafe, and really needs to be reevaluated.”
She requested that the board place a moratorium on the project, to allow the current wind ordinance to be reviewed in its entirety. However, Jeff Furness, supervisor of Fremont Township, stated that he was not ready to do that.
“My final question would be, what more do we need to do?” O’Connor said. “We have been told that if we have valid health, safety and welfare concerns, that you can put a moratorium on, and we can evaluate. We’re not saying don’t move forward, we’re just saying, let’s pause, look at this and do the right thing.”
Scott Westbrook and Kurt McFarlane were also vocal about concerns with the project.
During the meeting, Westbrook and McFarlane, a fire captain in the city of Port Huron, were named as alternates to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“I just got sworn in tonight, and my duty is to serve the community,” McFarlane said. “I don’t know what else it is going to take to get a moratorium; whatever other resources or answers that you need. Scott and I, we stepped up. We were sitting back, and we were not aware. But we realized that it was time to get in the game. We’re here and we’re ready to work. The community is ready to work. Whether you are for or against it, we need to have a conversation and really look at this.”
Westbrook, meanwhile, took a deeper look at the setback requirements in the wind ordinance, and affects on property value and Liberty Power getting approval from the FFA (Federal Aviation Administration), as the township still has a local airport.
“A lot of these issues were created by the request from Liberty to extend the maximum height to that higher height,” Westbrook said. “I think that a lot of people didn’t look at that, or didn’t plan for it. The one I really have an issue with is the non-participating setbacks, which is 150 percent (of the height of the turbine). When you do the math, that’s lower than the setbacks from the road, and I don’t know how it got that way. When the maximum height was 500 feet, that only puts the setback at 750 feet, and when you increase to the 700 footers, now you’re only at 1,050 for nonparticipating. That’s out of whack and needs to be looked at.”
Following the public comment, Gabriella Kovacs, a planner for Liberty, answered questions from the community, and also pointed members of the community to the project’s website, riverbendwind.com/.
She stated that any additional questions could be directed to her, via email.
According to the project summary on the website, construction start is targeted for 2023, with a project completion date targeted for 2024.
Currently, the company is awaiting approval on the special land use permit applications from the two townships.
The next Fremont Township board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., July 21, at the Fremont Township Hall.