Settlement reached in wind farm suit

GARDEN TOWNSHIP — A lawsuit between Garden Township and wind farm operator Heritage Sustainable Energy, LLC focusing on the township’s noise ordinance will be resolved with an amicable settlement, according to representatives of both parties. Matt Wojda, Garden Township’s attorney for this suit, said he expects the settlement to be finalized before the end of 2016.

“I would say by the end of next week, it’s all gonna be official,” he said.

Wojda said the township and the company have arrived at a mutually-agreeable settlement, but it took a considerable amount of time for them to get to this point. The lawsuit, which was filed by Heritage in the 47th District Court on May 12, 2015, alleged that Garden Township’s noise ordinance would prevent the company from operating their wind farm in a profitable manner.

“There were obviously some strong feelings on both sides,” he said.

However, a facilitated mediation session which took place this summer proved to be beneficial for both parties involved with the lawsuit.

“They realized they had to live with each other, and hopefully peacefully — hopefully in a way that’s beneficial to everyone,” Wojda said.

Marty Lagina, Heritage Sustainable Energy’s CEO, said he was pleased with the settlement agreement.

“I think it’s a very amicable settlement of the issue with Garden Township,” he said.

At the heart of Heritage and Garden Township’s agreement is a new conflict resolution system. Under this system, township residents affected by noise from wind turbines will be able to call a dedicated phone number to get in touch with Heritage.

“We’ve set up a number that people can call,” Lagina said.

Within six business days of receiving a complaint through this number, Heritage will send a representative to the caller’s location to investigate the situation and take action if need be. If this process does not lead to a satisfactory result, the township will then be able to step in. Wojda said this settlement will protect the rights of Garden Township’s citizens without placing excessive restrictions on Heritage.

According to Wojda, Heritage has also agreed to provide in-depth reporting on the noise complaints they receive. These reports will contain information on wind speed, wind direction, decibel readings, and more.

“It’s supposed to be very clear,” he said.

A minor amendment was also made to Garden Township’s noise ordinance, Wojda said. Under this amendment, a reference in the ordinance to noise as a “nuisance” will be replaced with a reference to “excessive” noise.

“That was a request from Heritage,” he said.

Lagina said he believes the settlement will provide benefits to both Heritage and Garden Township.

“We’ve reached what we think is a win-win settlement with Garden Township,” Lagina said.

According to Lagina, the settlement could mark the start of a new era of collaboration between the township and his company.

“I think it’s going to be the beginning of a positive relationship with Garden Township,” he said.

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