DALLAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A Chicago company planning to build 39 wind towers in rural central Michigan has sued three communities it says want to block the $120 million renewable energy project.
Forest Hill Energy-Fowler Farms LLC sued Dallas, Essex and Bengal townships on Monday in Clinton County Circuit Court in St. Johns. The lawsuit alleges that the townships collaborated to adopt rules effectively blocking the project.
A pre-existing county ordinance already had "many exacting requirements," the lawsuit said. They include rules that permit towers no more than 450 feet tall, allow up to 45 decibels of noise as measured from an off-site home and require that towers be at least 1,600 feet or four times the tower's height from any home.
The Bengal Township ordinance went further and rendered the project unviable, the lawsuit said. That ordinance caps the height at 400 feet, noise at 40 decibels at the nearest property line and a setback of 1,600 feet or four times the tower's height from any property line.
"The townships effectively enacted ordinances outright prohibiting wind turbines," the lawsuit said.
Forest Hill Energy has spent more than $1 million in crafting a project to meet county zoning, according to the suit.
William Fahey, an attorney for Dallas and Essex townships, said the Michigan Legislature has granted townships broad powers to regulate conduct for the public health, safety and general welfare.
"Our constitution says the powers of townships shall be liberally construed," Fahey told the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/XqIaG9 ). "Unless there is some specific statute out there that takes these powers away, the townships continue to have the powers and can exercise them."
Fahey said Clinton County's zoning ordinance permits townships to exercise their zoning authority over wind towers.
The Clinton County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 on Jan. 29 to grant a special land-use permit to Forest Hill Energy for the project, which has been a matter of public debate since 2008.