BAD AXE — County planners recently debated the merits of unlocking land strictly preserved for farming so a state utility can build a natural gas compressor.
Consumers Energy this month plans to start on a $9 million project to increase the natural gas pressure in Huron and Tuscola counties. It will be built at the corner of Sebewaing and Bay Port roads.
Local officials say it is overdue and much needed to help farmers during the fall grain-drying season.
The project is planned on three acres of farmland enrolled in the state’s Public Act 116 program, through which farmers contract to keep their land in farming and not develop it. Knowing the difficulty of releasing that land for any other use, county planners granted Consumers’ request so the project can be built.
Huron County has some of the most land in the state strictly dedicated to agriculture use. Certain conditions must be met to use that land for other purposes — in this case, the three acres Consumers Energy needs for the gas compressor. So county planners had to confirm the project would serve the public.
Building and Zoning Director Jeff Smith says the project will enhance agriculture preservation in Huron County and truly serves a public interest — one requirement in taking land out of the PA 116 program. The utility isn’t publicly owned, but publicly regulated.
“Our ordinance recognizes (Consumers Energy) as a public utility because it provides natural gas to the public,” Smith said.
According to plans submitted to the county, Consumers will build on a 3-acre site the utility purchased from a farmer. A 7-foot fence would surround a nearly 1,900-square-foot building housing the compressor. A 480-square-foot auxiliary building also is planned.
Construction will begin this month and be completed by September 2016 — in time to meet the grain drying and the winter heating season, according to Consumers Energy spokeswoman Debra Dodd. The construction schedule will be five days per week from 7 a.m. until about 3:30 p.m., Dodd said.
Noise from the facility is a local concern.
“The building is insulated for sound,” Daniel Pinkerton, an engineer with Consumers Energy working on the project, told planners in January. “We’ve done a preliminary noise study to document what noise is currently there and according to our study, we should meet the Michigan sound requirements.”
The noise the “neighbor” would experience is around 45 decibels. Thirty decibels is whispering to someone three feet away inside a library. Sixty decibels is a normal conversation, Pinkerton said.
“We may not run this thing as a requirement in the fall at all,” said Kirstin van Reesema, project manager. “We will run it just like a generator. We would test it once a month and it will be unmanned — it will operate automatically.”
Pinkerton added the compressor would only run for about two weeks “on a bad year.”